Cerabino: Gun debate in Florida shows wisdom doesn’t always age well

March 08, 2018
john kennedy, palm beach post
Illustration by Mark Buzek / The Palm Beach Post

There was a great moment of theater during the heated debate this week in the Florida House.

A gun and school-safety bill prompted by the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland was making a bunch of state lawmakers consider the unthinkable. Events were drawing them to vote against the interests of the National Rifle Association.

Oh, the horror. And to make things worse, the NRA had issued an “emergency alert” to its members to call the Florida lawmakers to tell them to vote against any new gun restrictions.

But those pesky kids from Marjory Stoneman Douglas couldn’t be denied. They kept showing up and talking and being such persuasive advocates for laws that make it harder for the next school mass shooter, and even harder for Florida lawmakers to sit there and do nothing.

And so in the end, even legislators with perfect NRA records had to … gulp … support minor gun restrictions, like raising the buying age to 21, banning bump stocks that turn semi-automatic assault rifles into machine guns, and imposing a three-day waiting period on all gun sales.

It wasn’t going down easy. Take Florida Rep. Elizabeth Porter, R-Lake City, who lists sport shooting as one her hobbies. Until this bill, she had been a perfect delivery vessel for the NRA’s legislative demands.

She was 11 for 11, backing such things as open carry on college campuses, prohibiting counties from passing stricter gun laws than the state’s permissive laws, and stopping insurance companies from charging higher premiums to gun owners.

But she was about to lose her 100 percent NRA seal of approval, and she couldn’t help taking it out on the kids who had pushed her into this political corner. And so she lashed out at them.

“We’ve been told we need to listen to the children,” she said to her colleagues during a speech on the House floor. “Are there any children on this floor? Are there any children making laws? Do we allow the children to tell us that we should pass a law that says no homework? Or you finish high school at the age of 12, just because they want it so?

“No. The adults make the laws because we have the age, we has the wisdom, and we have the experience.”

Yes, she said “we has the wisdom.” That was not a typo.

That would make a fitting motto to be plastered in bold letters over the doors.

“Welcome to the Florida Legislature: We has the wisdom. No kids allowed.”

Grammatical flaws aside, the adults making Florida’s laws regarding guns have displayed an appalling lack of wisdom time and again. When the Parkland kids told Florida Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran that they wanted the state to ban the AR-15 assault rifle, here’s what Corcoran said:

“I think that if you look, it’s widely used in multiple different hunting scenarios,” he said. “I know people who go out and they’ll do boar hunts and they’ll use them.”

That’s wisdom? That because some people slaughter hogs with military-designed weapons engineered to efficiently slaughter people our hands are tied?

That’s more like wisdumb.

As for the rest of Porter’s argument, if age is a direct correlation to wisdom, we’d have laws that ban drafty air conditioning, make rice pudding the state dessert, and require cars to go no faster than 50 miles an hour in the left lane on the highway.

Also, I don’t buy the notion that we Floridians treasure the experience of our lawmakers. If we did, we wouldn’t have a law that automatically kicks them out of office after eight years as a way to limit the damage they can inflict once they settle in.

Porter is in her eighth and final year in the Florida House, which means she’ll have to take her wisdom to some other legislative body or devote herself more fully to her target shooting.

So chin up, kids. The world will soon be yours. And when you get your chance, you’re bound to do a better job that we have.

You has the power.