In the wake of the shooting tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, there was no shortage of outcry and calls for political legislation to prevent these atrocities. As is ever the case in the immediate stampede for legislative action, pragmatic thinking is rarely addressed -- but that doesn't stop the desire to score political wins.
U.S. Senator Bill Nelson is no stranger to this, nor to viewers of the news covering these tragedies.
In the hours following the attack that claimed 17 lives of students and teachers in the Broward County school, Nelson has been a regular on national news networks. He also has made the rounds of all the cable news nets. Oh, and he's been on the local news channels.
There's a reason for Nelson flooding the zone with personal interviews.
The Democratic senator is in full election cycle here, because his seat is challenged this coming November. Note this appearance with local affiliate CBS News 4. Interviewer Rick Folbaum even mentions the reticence of other politicians and officials to politicize a tragedy like this. He opens things up for Sen. Nelson to launch into a campaign speech:
“We were just speaking with a Broward County commissioner ... he didn’t want to inject politics into this story so early on in the discussion. But since you mentioned it, sir ... you are running for reelection -- how does this become a part of your campaign messaging? What are you going to promise the people of South Florida if they were elect you to another term?”
With the table properly set, Nelson then pays lip service to not wanting to engage in this kind of talk, and then promptly sits at the campaign place-setting anyway.
“I’m not going to get into a campaign,” says Nelson, before launching into campaign mode. First, he lists a number of other shooting incidents, then gets on his platform.
“Mental health is certainly one thing that’s got to be looked at, and we got to give more attention to it," he says. "But, there’s something about an AR-15 ...” And there we go. Nelson mentions being a hunter himself. “But an AR-15 is not for hunting -- that’s for killing. At some point we got to confront what does the Second Amendment -- which I support -- where does it stop?”
This speech matches one he later delivered that evening on CNN. The network covered a live press conference staged at the school, held by the Broward Sheriff and also Governor Rick Scott, who flew down earlier that evening. He had been in meetings with the sheriff, the Broward Schools superintendent, as well as other leaders and officials.
Following Scott’s presentation Nelson was brought on, and he was eager to lean into the governor, noting the political points that Scott did not address in his presser. Some things to bear in mind here: The governor was busy with a series of rather grim duties in the wake of the shooting. His job here is to provide leadership and work with local authorities on the direct matter. The other detail -- Nelson will be running against Scott for his Senate seat this fall. So while Scott is busy working the aftermath, Nelson is free to appear on as many news outlets as he can find to be critical and pontificate on what he says really needs to be done.
Using this tragedy as his chance to forward gun-control legislation, Nelson extended his campaign-like lecture. He found a way to bring up a tangential issue. “We took a very common-sense approach in a bill offered by Sen. Feinstein, couple of years ago -- this bill said that if you were on the Terrorist Watch List, you can’t buy a gun. And we could not get that passed in the Senate.”
In none of his appearances did the journalists ask Nelson what this has at all to do with the Parkland school shooting. Nothing about the suspect, Nikolaus Cruz, has been connected with terrorist activity. But the senator was allowed to deliver his campaign prolix, undeterred, while claiming he was above such delivery at the very same time.
That gun bill Nelson felt the need to reference failed to get the votes because, despite his description, it distinctly is in opposition to common sense. The Terrorist Watch/ No-Fly lists have been referenced as triggers for individuals to be denied the chance at gun purchases.
The issue here is that you can be placed on these lists without ever having committed a crime. Mere suspicion can have you listed, and you could then find yourself being denied your constitutional rights without due process. They want to pass a law that states arbitrary inclusion would supersede your liberty.
Of course, this too was never brought up by any of the on-air members of the press. Nelson was able to deliver his anti-gun messaging, and he did so in an uninterrupted and unchallenged fashion. His opponent, meanwhile, has to reserve such political talk because he is grappling with the direct issue on the ground, working with authorities in a non-partisan fashion.
Brad Slager is a Fort Lauderdale freelance writer who wrote this commentary exclusively for Sunshine State News. He writes on politics and the entertainment industry and his stories appear in such publications as RedState and The Federalist.