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Giffords Senior Advisor Debbie Mucarsel-Powell Q&A with Val Demings

Val, I’m so excited to have the opportunity to speak with you about the gun violence issues affecting Floridians. You and I both know that Florida has a rocky history when it comes to gun safety. After the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016 and the Parkland school shooting in 2018, it seemed that our state made progress strengthening its gun safety laws—but today we have a State Governor and State Legislature that seems to be going in the wrong direction. You and I know that there’s plenty more that lawmakers can do to keep our communities safe. What do you think has been the most impactful gun safety measure Florida has enacted in recent years, and what do you think the state is lacking when it comes to gun safety?

In the years since the horrific Parkland shooting, Republicans and Democrats came together on a number of steps to keep guns out of the wrong hands including a waiting period for gun purchases, a bump stock ban, and an increase of the minimum age for gun purchases. 

Most importantly, a red flag law was also enacted to prevent anyone deemed to be a danger to themselves or others to access a firearm. As Orlando Police Chief and an officer of 27 years, I learned that guns in the wrong hands kill innocent civilians, law enforcement officers, and their holders, and I know these commonsense measures helped save lives.

Moving forward, we must take measures to continue cracking down on gun trafficking, ghost guns, and gun modifications to keep guns out of the wrong hands and our communities safe from violent criminals.

You’ve been fighting for gun safety laws in Congress for years, and now you’ve fought this fight under two different presidential administrations. During your time on Capitol Hill, you’ve become a powerful force who can successfully pass legislation while also making friends along the way—I still remember the great moments we shared when we served on the House Judiciary Committee together. What do you want people to understand about the internal process that goes into passing these laws, and how do you stay hopeful and motivated that we will be able to pass this lifesaving legislation?

I know how frustrating it is to wait for lifesaving legislation to pass, and I’m sick of inaction while easily-fixed loopholes cause death and tragedy in our communities. The vast majority of responsible gun owners, like myself, agree that it’s time to fix these loopholes.

Last year, alongside some of my colleagues, I introduced the Protecting Our Communities Act—a package of commonsense efforts to close obvious loopholes in America’s gun laws, prevent mass shootings, and protect law enforcement officers and the public from high-powered, rapid-firing, and untraceable weapons.

The process of passing legislation like this certainly isn’t easy or simple, but know that there are allies in Congress who recognize the urgency of this moment. I’ll never stop fighting for comprehensive change, and I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues to keep our communities safe.

I’m constantly amazed and inspired by the activists and communities who work tirelessly to protect Americans from gun violence. Your passion and your courage gives me hope even in some of our darkest moments.

We know that gun violence disproportionately impacts people of color across the country, and Florida is no exception. Black men make up less than nine percent of Florida’s population, but over 50% of its gun homicide victims. As a former chief of police, you know better than many people how gun violence can tear apart underserved communities in our cities—and you know  just how critical community-driven violence intervention programs can be to disrupting these cycles of violence. Can you talk about what these programs look like in action, and why both state governments and the federal government should prioritize funding to support their efforts?

We have an obligation to support every member of our community and keep them safe. Community-driven violence intervention programs help us identify those who are at the highest risk to commit or to become the victims of gun violence so that we can best help them.

As a former social worker and police chief who saw crime drop 40% during my tenure, I understand how communities across our country can prevent gun violence by building relationships between community leaders, at-risk community members, and the programs they need to thrive. These collaborative efforts between law enforcement, local community organizations, and community members are proven to reduce gun violence.

It’s essential that both state governments and the federal government work on funding these programs. President Biden’s Build Back Better Act, which I was proud to vote for, includes investments in community violence intervention programs. State legislators and local governments must also work with their communities to determine how these programs can be most effective.

These localized approaches are crucial, and data has shown that they save lives. We can disrupt these cycles of violence that disproportionately affect people of color, and we can do so in a way that will strengthen communities while keeping them safe.

You know better than many that the right to own a gun comes with an immense responsibility. But for decades, the gun lobby has spread the dangerous myth that we face a binary decision: either guns are everywhere, or they’re nowhere. We know that’s not true—and we know that the majority of gun owners support safety measures that save lives. What does responsible gun ownership look like to you, and why is it so crucial for gun owners to advocate for commonsense gun safety policies?

Responsible gun owners recognize the need for commonsense gun control measures, and I believe that they can be some of our best advocates for these safety policies. 

As a gun owner and a police officer of 27 years, I recognize the immense responsibility that comes with owning and handling a weapon. Unfortunately, many states have loose gun laws that do not require gun owners to receive any training. Those who own a gun have an obligation to attend training to learn how to properly use and store their firearm. 

Universal background checks for gun sales—including private sales—have gained support from responsible gun owners. Implementing universal background checks will keep guns out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them, saving countless lives.

I can’t tell you how excited I am about your campaign to represent Florida in the US Senate and replace Senator Marco Rubio, who has failed Floridians by fighting against important gun violence prevention policies for over a decade. Under his watch, over 2,500 people in Florida are killed by gun violence every year—that’s someone every three hours, and that’s unacceptable. It was my honor to commemorate these victims with you at the Gun Violence Memorial Giffords hosted in Miami in December, as we fight for a safer future for our families. What is it about our current political moment that motivated you to run for the Senate?

The number of Floridians affected by gun violence is staggering. Marco Rubio has utterly failed our communities, refusing to advocate for commonsense measures that will save lives. Instead, he’s received millions of dollars in political help from the gun lobby.

As a grandmother and mother of three, I know the worry and fear that parents and kids face as gun safety goes unaddressed. There is absolutely no time to waste, and this movement is too important to ignore. 

It’s time for Florida to be represented by people with the courage needed to take on the gun lobby and special interests, and I will never tire of fighting for the gun safety reforms we desperately need.