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State Legislator For Parkland, Fla., On Gun Control Measures


Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida spent the weekend urging lawmakers to get tougher on guns. They were on social media, on TV and at rallies. In a moment, we'll hear more about them and how some conservatives are responding to their message. First, Florida's Legislature has three weeks left in this session, and the shooting has suddenly made gun laws a central issue. Jared Moskowitz is a Democrat who represents the Parkland area in Florida's House of Representatives. Welcome.

JARED MOSKOWITZ: Good afternoon.

SHAPIRO: First of all, I understand this shooting was more personal to you than it was to many Florida lawmakers. You are a graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

MOSKOWITZ: Yeah, Parkland is a town that I grew up in. I went to Marjory Stoneman Douglas. I graduated in '99. I drive on those roads past the school almost daily. My 4-year-old son goes to preschool around the corner. This is my backyard. I know these people.

SHAPIRO: And so how did you spend this weekend?

MOSKOWITZ: This weekend's been difficult. It's been going to funerals, going to vigils, talking to students, talking to parents. It's been dealing with the next three weeks of session, trying to get something accomplished. If we don't get it done by March 9, we don't meet again until December after the 2018 elections. I'm attending funerals where people are screaming and cursing into the microphone based on their anger. They're looking at their teenage son or daughter in pine boxes, ready to be put in the ground, all because they sent their kid to school. That's the only thing that they did.

And I think to myself, I have a 4 year old. What if the shooter didn't go to Douglas? He went around the corner to my son's preschool. And what if he had gotten to my child? Would I decide to bury my son in his favorite pajamas? Would I take his favorite stuffed animal? These are the things that have been going through my head as I watch parents go through that identical exercise with their teenage child.

And I think to myself it has to be different. Washington is broken. Nothing's going to happen in Washington. But Tallahassee has three weeks. We have three weeks. We have a unique opportunity. Pulse did not happen during session. And they did not want to come back into session after Pulse.

SHAPIRO: The Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando.

MOSKOWITZ: That's correct. I led the effort to try to get a special session. And there were not enough votes to take us into special session. Enough folks on the other side of the aisle voted against going into special session. And then the headline changed, and we did nothing. It was back to business as usual. So we must come together as Democrats and Republicans and figure out how we change the laws.

SHAPIRO: So you attend these vigils and these funerals as a parent, as a member of a community, as a graduate of the high school and as a lawmaker. And do people come up to you? Did people approach you over the weekend and say, as a lawmaker, this is what I want you to do?

MOSKOWITZ: People are coming up to me. They're calling me. They're emailing me. They're texting me. They want meaningful gun control. They want something to happen with assault weapons and rifles. People don't understand how an 18 year old can buy an AR-15 but he can't have a beer. He can't even rent a car from Alamo or Enterprise. We've deemed that - we've deemed it unsafe for a teenager to go rent a car but not unsafe to have an AR-15 and extended magazines and enough ammo to go to war on the streets of America.

SHAPIRO: When you talk with your Republican colleagues in the Legislature, and you say, I want to do all of these many things, is there one or two that they say, well, we can definitely get on board with that?

MOSKOWITZ: I think raising the age to be able to have an AR-15, raising that to the age of - the same age it would take to buy a handgun. I think increased background checks. I think waiting periods. I think those are things that like-minded Democrats and Republicans, people trying to find common ground, parents from both sides of the aisle can get behind.

SHAPIRO: Florida's Governor Rick Scott has said that everything is on the table. He also has a lot of support from gun rights groups. He has an A-plus rating from the NRA. Do you think he would embrace anything that the Legislature might pass?

MOSKOWITZ: Well, I would say listen. Just like in school, you're an A-plus student until you get an F on a paper. And so anybody right now that has an A-plus for the NRA is more than welcome to come get an F. The governor has been on the ground. He's been to the school. He's been to the funerals. He's been talking to parents. He has seen this firsthand. He can have the largest impact over anybody else in Tallahassee by dictating the debate and what he wants to see on his desk. And so when he says that all options are on the table, well, based on my conversations with the folks that I'm having at the governor's office, all options are on the table. They are looking at all sorts of different ideas. I've not seen pen to paper yet, but it's only Monday.

SHAPIRO: You saw that after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, the state Legislature did nothing. What makes you think this time will be different?

MOSKOWITZ: I unfortunately think that because it's children and that it happened in the safest city in the state of Florida, which means this circus can come to your town, that we're in session, and we're in election year, that it was just so horrific what happened and so predictable and so easy to stop. And the students have been the best advocate. They have been the difference. They are the difference-maker. Forget the legislators. The students have been the ones that have been able to articulate this message so clearly of what the failures were, what they want to see. And they're not just talk. They're action. They're coming up to Tallahassee. They understand there's a limited window here to do something.

SHAPIRO: Jared Moskowitz, Democrat representing the Parkland area in Florida's House of Representatives, thank you very much for joining us.

MOSKOWITZ: Thank you for the time. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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