Opinion: Val Demings is the right woman to take on Marco Rubio over gun violence

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The Democratic Senate candidate is ready to take the necessary steps to protect Florida's communities.

When I was a young girl, my family immigrated to the United States from Ecuador. I know what violence looks like. We came to this country in hopes of a better, brighter future. 

I eventually was elected to Congress, fulfilling my parents' wildest dreams — but my dad wasn't there to see it. He was shot and killed in Ecuador when I was 24, a tragedy that has fueled my passion for ending the gun violence epidemic. Today I'm a senior advisor at Giffords, the gun violence prevention organization founded by former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. 

Gun violence is surging in America right now. Over 1 million Americans have been shot in the past decade. In 2020, gun deaths reached their highest level in at least 40 years, with 45,222 deaths that year alone. On average, every day 110 Americans are killed by a firearm. We are now entering the summer months, which are typically some of the most violent of the year. 

I am a mom to three children who have grown up in Florida. After Parkland, they have gone through active shooter drill after active shooter drill in their classrooms. Children and teachers shouldn't have to live like this. Florida's leaders need to lead and protect our children from this tragic reality.

And Floridians want their leaders to step up and address gun violence. It's why I was elected to Congress in 2018 and why I worked on the House Judiciary Committee to address gun violence. I witnessed my friends and former colleagues fight to protect the lives of our children. But unfortunately, our work in the House to pass historic legislation like universal background checks wasn't enough because of senators like Marco Rubio. 

Finally, in the wake of tragedies in Buffalo and Uvalde, Congress stepped up and took action, passing the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. Marco Rubio voted no on legislation that even Sen. Mitch McConnell supported. This comes at a time when a conservative majority on the Supreme Court just issued an extreme ruling that imposes the gun lobby's dangerous "guns everywhere" agenda, endangering Americans.

Sen. Rubio says he wants school safety, but he's been in office for over 10 years and he has nothing to show for it on this issue: no bill to sponsor, no school safety act passed after Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland.

In December, Giffords installed its traveling Gun Violence Memorial in Miami to honor the 3,000 lives lost to gun violence in Florida in 2020. It is located in Bayfront Park; residents of our great state could see firsthand the devastating toll gun violence has taken on our families and communities.

As Floridians, it was hard to witness. As Americans, it was infuriating.

Florida is an incredibly diverse state. Floridians are resilient, strong, independent thinkers who don't always vote along party lines. We vote for leaders who will do what is right for our state and for our families. Without a doubt that person in this race is Congresswoman Val Demings.

My friend Val, who I served in Congress with, spent 27 years in law enforcement. The first woman to serve as chief of police in the Orlando Police Department, Val was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2016, months after the horrific shooting at Pulse.

While in the House, she voted for legislation to enact universal background checks and introduced the Law Enforcement Protection Act of 2021, which would regulate armor-piercing concealable weapons under the National Firearms Act. Val is tough, she knows this issue backwards and forwards, and she is ready to take the necessary steps to protect our communities

Our children deserve to go to school without fearing for their lives. Parents deserve to go to work without wondering if their kids will make it home safe. Teachers deserve to do what they came to this job to do — to teach, not to put their lives on the line. We all deserve better.

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell is a senior adviser at Giffords. She served as U.S. representative for Florida's 26th Congressional District from 2019 to 2021.