Commentary: Life's good in gun-crazy Florida

The Miami HeraldMarch 27, 2013 

Almost. Almost a massacre. Almost a college campus horror. But last week’s thwarted killing spree had no discernible effect on Tallahassee’s gun fetish. Almost mattered almost not at all.

James Oliver Seevakumaran amassed 1,000 rounds of ammunition. He smuggled two firearms into his University of Central Florida dorm room, a High Point .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol and what police described as an American Tech 22-magnum tactical rifle, which has the look, if not quite the lethality of a higher caliber assault weapon. But it would be plenty efficient for slaughtering unarmed kids. Police said Seevakumaran packed two 28-round magazines for his rifle. Almost as an afterthought, he stuffed a backpack with four homemade bombs.

And he had a plan. A checklist for killing. Last on his list, the would-be gunman had scrawled, “Give them hell."

UCF campus police chief Richard Beary told reporters that early Monday morning the 30-year-old Seevakumaran had pulled the fire alarm, knowing that fellow residents of Tower 1, a seven-story dormitory, would spill out into the hallways and down to the common areas, where they would be clumped together for easy targeting. “Anybody armed with this type of weapon and ammunition could have hurt a lot of people here, particularly in a crowded area as people were evacuating,” the chief told reporters.

But his roommate, Air Force veteran Arabo Babakhani, emerged from his bedroom and was confronted with Seevakumaran wielding the gun. Babakhani slammed the door in the gunman’s face and called 911. Police arrived quickly. “We think the rapid response of law enforcement may have changed his ability to think quickly on his feet,” Beary said. Instead, he shot himself in the head.

“It could have been a very bad day for everyone here.” Chief Berry added, in something of an understatement.

Instead of another school massacre, the incident would be categorized with the 20,000 firearm suicides reported in the U.S. in a typical year. That might be an epidemic in some countries, but in the U.S. gun suicides are hardly in the national conversation.

“It’s a tragedy, but it’s not an unspeakable tragedy,” said UCF President John Hitt. Indeed, Florida’s legislative leadership had nothing to say about UCF’s near miss with mass murder.

Later that same day, just 10.5 miles west of the UCF campus, a school resource officer at Orlando’s Glenridge Middle School acted on a tip and looked inside a seventh grader’s backpack. What he discovered was yet more evidence of Florida’s pervasive gun culture.

The 12-year-old had brought a 9 mm MAC-10 pistol to school, though the word “pistol” hardly describes this particular firearm. It was a semi-automatic version of those artless black metal machine gun pistols, the grease guns so popular with American gangsters. Killers love the compact MAC-10s because so much firepower can be concealed under a coat. Or in a child’s backpack.

Orlando police said the MAC-10’s 30-cartridge magazine was fully loaded. Police later tested the gun at the firing range and found it was fully functional, ready to kill. The child also brought a conventional .380-caliber pistol, though, small blessing, the second weapon was not in working order.

It was a Monday fraught with terrible possibilities. None seemed to register with the NRA-controlled legislature.

Senate President Don Gaetz, who controls the senate agenda, said last week he would leave all the questions about gun legislation to the discretion of the chairman of the senate Criminal Justice Committee, Sen. Greg Evers of the Panhandle town of Baker. Which is about like leaving the question of whether to ban chocolate ice cream up to your 5-year-old.

In 2009, the NRA bought space on 32 billboards in northwest Florida featuring a giant photo of Evers in a camouflage outfit, clutching a gun, with the proclamation, “I am the NRA.”

The Herald’s Toluse Olorunnipa dutifully asked Evers last week if he would countenance any sort of gun measure during this legislative session, though everyone in Tallahassee knew what Evers would say before he said it. Especially Gaetz (who once joked that his idea of gun control was “a steady aim.”). Evers said, “I don’t see any controversial bills that we need to bring up or any bills dealing with guns that need to be moved.”

Everything’s just dandy, here in gun-crazed Florida. According to Olorunnipa, a proposed repeal of the so-called “docs versus Glocks” law has no chance. The 2011 legislation outlawed the right of doctors to ask patients or patients’ parents about firearms in the homes. Doesn’t matter if the physician’s confronted with a suicidal teenager. Or an utterly unhinged patient. No chance for that bill. Not in this legislature.

A bill to restrict gun show sales to licensed dealers was also deemed good as dead, along with another piece of legislation that would modify the NRA-backed Stand Your Ground self-defense law, despite all the well-documented unintended consequences.

A gun bill that would require universal background checks for gun purchases can’t get out of committee. This, despite a Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday that found 91 percent of Floridians supported the concept. But 91 percent support is not enough, in our Democracy, to thwart the will of the NRA.

(The NRA has indicated it might support a bill that would bar firearm purchases to mental patients who voluntarily commit themselves, closing the loophole in the state law that bans sales to the involuntarily committed. This coincides with the NRA national strategy to defuse anti-gun sentiment over the Newtown massacre by restricting firearm sales to the mentally ill.)

A couple of other legislative proposals would tax firearms sales and direct the proceeds to fund either mental health or school safety programs — an almost laughable concept in Florida. Guns and taxes in the same paragraph? Never.

Olorunnipa counted two dozen gun proposals languishing in the legislature. And two dozen nevers. Rhymes with Evers.

Meanwhile, in Washington, the NRA has similarly beaten back proposals to ban assault weapons and limit magazine capacity. The organization also opposes a federal background check, claiming such a thing would lead to a secret national registry and confiscation.

National polls indicate 88 percent of the American public supports background checks. But the NRA trumps the national will. Despite the brutal carnage of school children in Newtown. Or the (according to the Huffington Post) 2,243 gunshot deaths since the Newtown murders.

If awful scenes of so many dead elementary school children has so little effect on national gun legislation, you can imagine how much attention an almost gun massacre at UCF is getting in the Florida legislation.

Almost none.

McClatchy Washington Bureau is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service