A proposal from the Florida Legislature to restrict gun and ammo sales?
Could it be? A mirage, maybe. Or a sign that the Earth has slipped from its axis.
But there it was in black and white, part of Florida House Bill 701, a silly piece of grandstanding from Republican legislators eager to foster the myth that the freeloading poor are having it way too easy here in Florida.
The bill makes it clear that needy families in Florida won’t be allowed to use their government-provided debit cards, known as Electronic Benefit Transaction (EBT) cards, to buy liquor or to indulge themselves at gambling venues and strip clubs.
After all, this is money meant to be temporary assistance for poor families to pay for housing or to put meals on the table for their children.
The bill is silly because it’s unnecessary. The federal Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, passed by Congress and signed by President Obama, already banned the use of EBT cards for these purposes, and all the state needed to do was simply to update its policies by next year to follow the new federal law.
“The public law does not require states to enact legislation in order to comply with the new EBT restrictions,” a staff analysis of the proposed Florida law states.
But, hey, riding this dead horse makes for good future campaign fodder. So we’re going to get ourselves a piece of legislation that shows just how tough state lawmakers can be on the poor when they’re not handing out tax breaks to billionaires.
But there was a slight problem with the initial script.
For along with banning EBT cards for purchases of gin, dog track quinellas and lap dances, the bill tacked on a prohibition of using the government assistance at “an establishment licensed to sell firearms or ammunition whose firearm and ammunition sales exceed 35 percent of the establishment’s annual sales.”
How long does thinking like this survive in Florida? The gun provision was dead on arrival at the first public airing of the bill.
It’s speedy death happened Wednesday in front the House Healthy Families Subcommittee.
The only amendment the committee made to the bill was to remove the prohibition about using welfare money to buy guns and ammo. The bill’s author, Jimmie T. Smith, R-Inverness, withdrew the gun provision immediately without a fight.
“The use of those funds to buy guns is not the intended purpose, but it was withdrawn because we didn’t have sufficient data,” explained Smith’s legislative aide Gabe Peters.
The gun ban might have prevented the poor from using the EBT cards at sporting goods stores, Peters said. So rather than risk unintended consequences, the provision was removed.
It would have also killed the Florida legislature’s perfect record of being a wholly owned subsidiary of the gun manufacturer’s lobby, also known as the NRA.
So to recap: A committee devoted to preserving the health of families made sure the poorest of families could buy guns and ammo with their government handouts.
There’s more than sufficient data to show just how unhealthy guns are for families. Keeping a gun in the home raises the risk of homicide by three times and the risk of suicide by five times, according to a report in the New England Journal of Medicine.
One goal of the federal assistance program to the poor is “to encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families.”
Guns have a way of destroying two-parent families: In one recent year, 574 women in America were shot to death by a husband, ex-husband or boyfriend, according to a Violence Policy Center report issued last year.
Making sure that the poor can buy guns with their government food money is a brutal way to get people off public assistance.
Yes, the Earth is back on its axis. For a moment there, though, it appeared that Florida had evolved. But that moment didn’t last very long.