Anne H. Oman, A Reporter at Large
President Obama’s push for a federal ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines is gaining some grass roots support in Fernandina Beach, according to Jennifer Harrison, who started Concerned Citizens against Assault Weapons (CCAAW). The group is gathering signatures on a petition to be sent to Florida’s two US Senators and to Congressman Ander Crenshaw (R-FL) and has also asked State Representative Janet Adkins to “take the initiative and persuade your fellow legislators …to ban assault weapons with large-capacity ammunition clips from our civilian society.”
Rep. Adkins could not be reached for comment at press time.
The exact number of people who have signed the petition to date in not know because “people are still collecting all over the place,” according to Ms. Harrison. She estimated the number “in the hundreds,” with many more expected as volunteers fan out to book clubs, clergy breakfasts and other gatherings. On Monday, Ms. Harrison stood outside the Fernandina Walmart with low expectations (“after all, they sell ammo)” but found the response gratifying.
“Many people signed the petition and thanked me for organizing it,” she said. “Even gun owners were supportive. And those who didn’t want to sign it were quite polite. ”
The Fernandina Beach Walmart store does sell ammunition, but no guns.
CCAAW stresses it does not oppose sporting guns, only assault-type weapons and large capacity magazines—the type of equipment that killed 20 children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December.
A conversation about that tragedy between Ms. Harrison and her friend Maggie Carlson was the impetus for the petition drive, said Ms. Harrison, who holds a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and has worked with schools, which, she feels, are particularly vulnerable to this type of violence.
“Schools are prime targets for people who want to commit something that will give them instant notoriety,” she said. She wanted to do something “before the horror of Sandy Hook recedes in people’s minds.”
Called by some “The Gunshine State,” Florida ranks 25th in the nation in gun-law strictness according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, some 798,000 residents requested background checks to buy guns, as required by federal law, in 2012. So far during January, more than 53,000 additional requests have been made. The department has no information on how many of these would-be buyers planned to purchase assault type weapons.
An employee at Second Amendment Outfitters, a gun store and range in Yulee, who identified himself only as David, had no comment on the petition drive but said that business had picked up since the November election. But, he said, the shop sold only “2 or 3 [assault type weapons] per month,” and that their customers buy them “to use on the range so they don’t have to keep reloading.”
Ms. Harrison, the leader of the petition drive, said assault type weapons with large capacity ammunition clips “enable the gunman to rapidly fire off what could be as many as 100 rounds without having to reload,” thus making mass killings such as the one at Sandy Hook possible. She cited four mass killings in Florida since 1982, resulting in 28 deaths.
To date, Florida has issued a million “concealed carry” permits, according to the Department of Agriculture, which issues the permits, the only gun licenses required under Florida law. One in every 14 Florida adults has a permit to carry a concealed weapon. As of December 31, 2012, there were 4,979 “concealed carry” permit holders in Nassau County. (The US Census Bureau put the 2011 adult population of the county at approximately 60,000). No statistics are available on how many of these permit holders own assault-type guns.
Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper said he was not aware of an assault weapons problem in the county. On the issue of assault weapons endangering law enforcement personnel, he said “they are targeted by all kinds of guns.”
According to Arthur Hayhoe, Executive Director of the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, grassroots efforts like the one in Fernandina are sprouting up “all over the place.” Mr. Hayhoe is trying to organize a statewide summit on gun violence with a particular focus on closing what he calls “the gun show loophole”. A state ballot initiative passed in 1998 empowers county commissioners to pass ordinances requiring background checks on people who buy weapons at gun shows. This power is specifically exempt from the preemption law, which prevents local jurisdictions from regulating firearms, other than through zoning laws dictating where gun shops may set up business.
“We’ve done that in most of the larger counties,” he said. “Most of the smaller counties don’t have gun shows.”
According to the website “Gun Show Monster,” no gun shows are scheduled this year in Nassau County, but one will be held in Jacksonville January 19 and 20.
Mr. Hayhoe spearheaded an effort to pass an assault weapons ban in the Florida legislature several years ago, but was unsuccessful. He believes the best hope for such a ban is on the federal level.
“Sandy Hook has given new life to gun control organizations all over the United States,” he said.
The Fernandina group will march in the Martin Luther King parade here on Monday, January 21, and invite any interested persons to join them. They will assemble at the Buccaneer City ball field at 13th and Ash Streets at 11:30 a.m. wearing the green ribbons popularized by former Congressman Gabby Giffords in her national campaign to end gun violence.
Editor’s Note: Anne H. Oman recently relocated to Fernandina Beach from Washington, D.C. Her articles have appeared in The Washington Post, The Washington Star, The Washington Times, Family Circle and other publications.
January 17, 2013 5:37 p.m.