5 years after Parkland shooting, is Florida moving ‘backwards’ on gun reform?

PARKLAND, Fla. – In his home office, flanked by images of his murdered son, Joaquin, Manuel Oliver reviewed his latest firearm regulation campaign video.

He hands out penalty flags to lawmakers he says are indifferent to enacting gun reform legislation as a policy tool to mitigate against gun violence.

“We try to prevent these tragedies from happening by creating awareness,” Oliver said.

The journey to being an unabashed advocate for gun control started shortly after the Parkland shooter, armed with an AR-15-style rifle, shot and killed his son and 16 other students and staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and wounded another 17 on Valentine’s Day 2018.

In the early weeks after the tragedy, students led an effort calling for stricter gun laws.

“They had a spotlight over them that helped parents like me to get up there and join that fight,” Oliver said.

Nearly a month after the shooting, Florida’s then-governor, Republican Rick Scott, signed a historic gun reform bill raising the minimum age to buy a firearm from 18 to 21 and banning bump stocks.

Now a U.S. senator, in 2022, days after the horrific Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas, Scott declined to take a nationwide approach to gun reform legislation.

“I think all those discussions are to be done at the state level,” Scott said at the time.

Now in 2023, five years after Parkland, state lawmakers will consider a new bill that “eliminates the need for a concealed weapons license.”

“We are going backwards,” Oliver said. “There are 25 states that have that no permit carry...(it’s a) crazy idea.”

In 2021, the Pew Research Center found “just over half of Americans (53%) say gun laws should be stricter than they currently are.”

Gallup’s gun policy data charts upticks in the public’s support for stricter gun laws after mass shootings.

In 2022, a Gallup poll found that two-thirds of Americans support stricter gun control laws, adding “if elected officials and leaders follow majority public opinion, they would enact a wide variety of new policies that would control the purchasing of guns.”

Through his gun violence prevention advocacy work, Oliver says as long as deadly school shootings remain a worrisome constant in American culture, he will be working to make sure they don’t become a “new normal.”

“I did not start this fight, we are fighting back,” Oliver said.

“Carrying this movement and being (able) to talk about it every single day and create something to feel that we are still parents, we do things for our son,” he added. “We are committed to do this forever...we know that we are not going to stop fighting for this.”

About the Author:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."