While Republican lawmakers plan gun law expansions, Orlando Democrats and reform advocates push for a ban on assault weapons

While Republican lawmakers plan gun law expansions, Orlando Democrats and reform advocates push for a ban on assault weapons

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click to enlarge Brandon Wolf - Photos by Monivette Cordeiro
Photos by Monivette Cordeiro
Brandon Wolf

State Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, says he won't comment on the assault weapons bills filed by Smith and Stewart until he's looked them over. But Plakon recently filed his own bill to allow people with concealed carry licenses to carry guns on college and university campuses. He says he believes areas like college campuses, schools and nightclubs like Pulse that are "gun-free zones" have become targets for "evil people" to commit shootings because others are defenseless, and people should be able to protect themselves. Plakon supports the measure because of a 2013 incident involving his daughter at Lake Mary High School – a false active shooter was reported, and Plakon felt his daughter was unprotected in the situation.

"We're essentially born with Second Amendment rights under the Constitution, so there has to be a darn good reason to restrict that," he says. "Thirty-one states have some form of campus carry and nothing horrible has happened. ... Why continue to deny these adults their rights?"

But technically, Pulse wasn't a "gun-free zone" because, although civilians could not carry guns in the club, Pulse had armed security present. On the night of the shooting, Adam Gruler, an off-duty Orlando Police officer, was working security for the club. When the first shots started at 2:02 a.m., Gruler engaged in a gun battle with Mateen toward the entrance of the club. But early on, Gruler realized Mateen, who was carrying a Sig Sauer MCX .223 caliber rifle and a Glock 17 9mm semiautomatic pistol, outgunned him. He called for backup as Mateen retreated further into the club, and a couple of minutes later, two other officers arrived for another shootout with the gunman.

A recent study from John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health contradicted the "gun-free zone" theory when it found that in mass shootings involving six or more victims from 1966 to June 2016, only 12 percent of those shootings actually took place in areas where guns were totally restricted, including for armed security or police or armed civilians. Only about 5 percent of those shootings occurred in a zone where civilian gun possession was prohibited.

"Successful civilian uses of guns to stop a mass shooting were incredibly rare and about as common as armed civilians being shot while attempting to respond to mass shooting incidents," the 2016 study says. "Furthermore, the data show no evidence that Right-to-Carry laws – which, it is argued, lead to more armed citizens ready to defend against a mass shooting – reduce mass shootings or the number of people shot in those incidents."

Plakon acknowledges that Pulse and college campuses may not truly be "gun free zones" because of armed security and police, but says the solutions gun reform advocates talk about wouldn't stop these tragedies, because "the reality is the bad guys will always get the guns."

"They don't obey the law," he says. "You can write all the laws you want, but then, the question is, do you allow the good guys to protect themselves? And the answer is yes, in appropriate places, and I've come to the conclusion that includes college campuses."

At an Orlando press conference last week, Brandon Wolf told the crowd of about 50 gun reform advocates in front of the Orange County Courthouse that he remembers sitting frozen in one of Pulse's bathrooms as the gunman fired 30 rounds in a minute. Thirteen of those bullets fatally hit his two best friends, Drew Leinonen and Juan Ramon Guerrero.

"We didn't just arm hate on June 12," Wolf said. "We militarized it. We handed hate an assault weapon and we said, 'Is that going to be cash or card?'"

Wolf said he knows that limiting magazine sizes and access to assault weapons isn't going to stop violence in the world, but he nonetheless believes it's a clear signal that, while hate can't be stopped, it can be disarmed.

"While we stood by and remained inactive, we were complicit in murder after murder after murder," Wolf said, adding, "We are done being gunned down."

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