Every winter, my wife Karyn and I spend a few weeks in the other land of our people – Florida. We are fortunate to have friends and family who are snowbirds, so finding accommodations is not an issue.
Southern Florida is a universe unto itself. A mixture of American Jews from staunchly liberal states, such as New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Vermont, sprinkled with Canadians, mostly Ontarians and Quebecers, all mixing somewhat uneasily with Floridians who were proudly born there and are even more proudly conservative.
The debate surrounding Donald Trump constantly hangs in the humid air. After all, the real White House (Mar-a-Lago) is located a stone’s throw from where we spend the majority of our time.
Last year was difficult. Americans were just waking up to the nightmare they wrought on themselves by electing a dangerous, misogynist, racist and sexist man as president. Yet despite these evident truths, Floridians – and, yes, even a good number of Florida’s resident Jews – embraced this evil with a gusto that shocked, and continues to shock, the world.
The pool in the complex we stay in resembled a battlefield after the election. On one side were the Americans from the more liberal northern states and the few Canadians still grieving hard over the ascendancy of Trump. On the other side were a very vocal minority of Jews who love their guns, hold some bigoted views and are big Trump supporters.
All this made for some very uncomfortable times. Cold stares, fierce arguments and broken friendships ensued. No one could be moved from his or her political perch. I was thoroughly flabbergasted – I simply couldn’t fathom how anyone, especially Jews who understood victimization and racism better than most, could make common cause with this man. Nonetheless, there it was and it depressed the hell out of me.
This year, the atmosphere was much different. We arrived in Florida two days after the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which is only minutes away from where we were staying.
Seventeen people were savagely gunned down by what appears to have been a mentally unstable student. Their murders were made much easier by the fact that the shooter was able to obtain an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.
This weapon costs under $1,000 and can be purchased at virtually any age, with no real background check. The bullets from the AR-15 travel at speeds in excess of 975 metres per second.
According to one trauma team doctor, “The bullets fired by an AR-15 … travel at a higher velocity and are far more lethal than routine bullets fired from a handgun. The damage they cause is a function of the energy they impart as they pass through the body. A typical AR-15 bullet leaves the barrel traveling almost three times faster than – and imparting more than three times the energy of – a typical 9 mm bullet from a handgun. An AR-15 rifle outfitted with a magazine with 50 rounds allows many more lethal bullets to be delivered quickly without reloading.”
As a result of the shooting, the scene at the pool had changed dramatically. All the talk was about the school rampage, rather than politics. And for the first time, it seemed as though both Republicans and Democrats were of one mind – even gun owners proclaimed the necessity of banning AR-15s.
And yet, it took the children to lead the way. It was the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who survived the shooting who are responsible for pressuring Florida lawmakers into passing new gun control measures. They have indeed become the conscience of the American people.
Sadly, some politicians have still hung tenaciously to their Second Amendment right to bear firearms, including AR-15s. But something has changed in America. You could feel it in the air in southern Florida. American politicians will have to change, or change will happen to them.
May the memories of the victims be forever a blessing.