As Florida snowbirds, my wife and I fly south each winter to enjoy its warm climate. However, over the last several years, we’ve felt a more chilling and threatening climate clouding the state’s sunny appeal. I’m referring to Florida’s increasingly hostile political climate that, like literal climate change, may worsen and spread, at our peril.
I first experienced this threatening atmosphere on a Florida golf course, of all places. The ranger warned me that I’d be risking my life retrieving my golf ball from a resident’s unfenced yard. “The owner protects his property with a gun.” I thought he was joking, but I’m glad I took his advice after I read about a local man who shot another man and then beat him with a golf club for the crime of walking his dog on a golf course.
Okay, some people sometimes snap for trivial reasons. But after joining a group of senior citizens for weekly golf, I learned over a couple of beers that they were all avid gun collectors who boasted about their array of automatic weapons. And they volunteered that they wouldn’t mind using their guns to “take out” lib politicians, especially the present president of the United States.
Though their macho braggadocio may have been attributed to excess beer or to depleted testosterone, I kept my liberal mouth shut and never golfed there again. But now, as Gov. Ron DeSantis has loosened gun control to pander to gun enthusiasts and libertarians, I believe he has put all Floridians under the gun.
Despite the slaughter of innocents at Marjorie Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida five years ago, DeSantis supports legislation allowing Floridians to carry concealed weapons without a permit or training even though “guns were the most common weapon used in aggravated assaults in Florida.”
And together with Florida’s “stand-your-ground” law, the governor’s gun policy amounts to legalized, deadly violence in cases of innocent trespass, petty disputes, road rage, bumped shopping carts and accidental eye contact. Recently a Florida woman stood in a parking space at Fort Lauderdale’s beach, pulled a gun on someone trying to park there, and then defended herself with the “stand your ground” law.
Indeed, if there were any truth in marketing, Florida’s legislature should update its nickname, from “The Sunshine State,” to “The Gunshine State.”
Not only has DeSantis encouraged a gun culture that threatens public safety, but he’s also weaponized his office to chill any speech of which he disapproves. His “Individual Freedom Act” threatens teachers with firing for discussing racism, past and present, thereby denying students the knowledge and opportunity to think and make decisions about their nation’s policies for themselves. The law also intimidates and threatens school librarians with criminal prosecution for providing students access to knowledge the governor considers “political.” Further, it marginalizes minorities by stifling their voices and erasing their identities, perpetuating the historical racism the governor denies exists.
And while he ironically claimed Florida “Number one in Education Freedom” and signed the “Parental Rights in Education Act,” he has denied the majority of parents the right to decide what topics, literature, and discussions their children can access. Since teachers neither sexually “groom” children nor sexually indoctrinate them, the governor wants credit for solving problems of his own manufacture. In other words, he callously uses parents and children as political pawns in his ingenuous claims of protecting them.
Even private enterprise has felt the chilling effect of the governor’s assault on free speech. When Disney World pledged to stop Florida campaign donations after the governor signed his “Don’t Say Gay” legislation that prohibited discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in Florida schools; DeSantis angrily imposed state control of Disney World’s Reedy Creek Improvement District. He also has withheld government investment in businesses that encourage environmental, social and diversity considerations in their investments. And he has threatened to revoke liquor licenses of businesses that present drag shows that allow minors even when accompanied by parents.
So, just as unsuspecting homeowners once invested in cheap Florida real estate only to discover they’d been sold swampland by unscrupulous developers; I fear unsuspecting Americans may buy Governor DeSantis’ marketing of the “free state of Florida” only to find themselves living in a state of repression. Worse, since the governor wants to be president, Florida’s repressive micro-climate may spread political winter across the nation.
So, this spring we especially appreciate our return to Connecticut where the climate of reason can still be enjoyed.
Thomas Cangelosi is a retired teacher from Avon.