A perfect job for NRA backer
It's only fitting that the NRA's biggest tool in Florida is a funeral director. He is Rep. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican who does whatever the gun lobby wants. Three days after the slaughter of first-graders in Newtown, Conn., Baxley made headlines by suggesting that weapons should be carried by employees at public schools. Said he: "In our zealousness to protect people from harm we've created all these gun-free zones, and what we've inadvertently done is we've made them a target. A helpless target is exactly what a deranged person is looking for where they cannot be stopped."So that's the problem. It's not crackpots with Bushmasters; it's those darn gun-free zones. And since a brain-free zone usually encircles Florida's Legislature, count on some eager-beaver lawmaker to follow up on Baxley's idea of arming teachers, coaches, maybe even cafeteria workers. You might be wondering what kind of a person would advocate saturating our schools with loaded firearms. How about a grandfather of eight who lists his hobbies as fishing, reading and "listening to Gospel music"? Rock on, Dennis. Nearer my Glock to thee! Although Baxley has been on the boards of child-protection groups in Marion County, the massacre of those innocent children in Connecticut failed to shake his faith in a guns-for-all philosophy. He's been a longtime darling of the NRA. In 2004 the group gave him an A-plus rating and a "Defender of Freedom" award, and four years later it pumped $35,000 into his election campaign, according to Mother Jones magazine. In return, Baxley has been obedient and loyal as a puppy. He's responsible for Florida's half-baked "Stand Your Ground" law, now a go-to legal defense for any dope dealer or gang banger who shoots down a rival on the street. The law has been so problematic for prosecutors that Gov. Rick Scott last year formed a task force to review it. Baxley, of course, was given a prime seat. As head of the House Judiciary committee, he's in position to snuff proposed changes to the "Stand Your Ground" statute. Similarly, any sane legislation that might limit access to weapons and mass ammo clips of the sort used at Sandy Hook Elementary would have to get Baxley's approval, which will never happen. He's way too tight with Marion Hammer, Florida's top gun lobbyist and a cloud-mate of that jibbering NRA wingnut, Wayne LaPierre. Both Hammer and LaPierre trade on the myth that they speak for America's gun owners, when they don't even speak for the group's membership. A conservative pollster reported that more than 70 percent of NRA members surveyed support certain reforms that are rabidly opposed by the leadership — requiring criminal background checks on all gun buyers, for example, and banning firearm ownership by anyone on the FBI's terrorist watch list. Another fact that the NRA doesn't brag about: Its funding increasingly depends on gun manufacturers, not gun owners. According to the Violence Policy Center, 22 firearms manufacturers, including Beretta USA and Smith & Wesson, gave almost $39 million to the NRA between 2005 and 2011. In many states the NRA has used campaign contributions and threats of retribution to secure political puppets such as Baxley. The successful tactic has given the lobby a clout that far outweighs the true size of its constituency. The NRA claims 4.3 million members. If you charitably assume it's not padding the numbers, the total still represents just a tiny fraction of American gun owners, of whom there are at least 146 million. In other words, more than 97 percent of legal gun owners in this country — hunters, target shooters, people who keep or carry a firearm for protection — don't belong to the NRA. Many gun owners have multiple weapons (I own two, a shotgun and a rifle), but the vast majority don't keep assault rifles or military-style semiautomatics of the type used on the moviegoers in Aurora, Colo., the children in Newtown or, more recently, four firefighters and an off-duty policeman in Webster, New York. The latest wave of attacks has shaken up a few pro-NRA stalwarts like Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, who said: "I don't know anybody in the sporting or hunting arena that goes out with an assault rifle. I don't know anybody who needs 30 rounds in a clip to go hunting." Tragically, nothing so sensible is being heard from lawmakers such as Baxley, though he undoubtedly has embalmed enough young gunshot victims to realize that something needs to change.
Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for The Miami Herald.