Editor’s note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show.” Follow him on Threads at www.threads.net/@deanobeidallah. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion at CNN.
Armed with an AR-15-style rifle and a handgun, the gunman killed the three victims at a Dollar General store before killing himself, according to the Jacksonville sheriff. The gunman used racial slurs and left behind racist manifestos, authorities said. He had been turned away from the campus of Edward Waters University, a historically Black college in the area, a short time earlier.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a 2024 GOP presidential candidate, left the campaign trail Sunday to return home as his state reeled from the racially motivated shooting and faced a tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico. In response to the shooting, DeSantis released a video calling the shooting “horrific.” He denounced the shooter as a “scumbag,” adding, “This shooting … was racially motivated. He was targeting people based on their race. That is totally unacceptable.”
That’s right, but DeSantis must do more than simply denounce this hate-fueled shooting as “unacceptable.” Given the fact that the GOP holds a supermajority in the Florida Legislature, the governor must champion legislation to address gun violence and the apparent cause of this shooting: White supremacy. And since he’s a leading presidential candidate, DeSantis should also be advocating a federal approach to both these issues.
A great example of a governor who effectively addressed these two vital issues came after the May 2022 shooting in Buffalo, New York, by a teenaged White supremacist who targeted Black people in a rampage that left 10 people dead.
In response, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and the Democratic-controlled state legislature swiftly enacted a sweeping legislative package. The legislation included banning the purchase of semi-automatic rifles by anyone under age 21, closing gun purchase loopholes, strengthening the state’s red flag laws by expanding the list of people who can file extreme risk protection orders and more.
When the legislation was signed in June 2022, Hochul said, “Gun violence is an epidemic that is tearing our country apart. Thoughts and prayers won’t fix this, but taking strong action will.”
As to the underlying cause of that Buffalo shooting, White supremacy, Hochul was full-throated in her denunciation of this cancer. The governor called the Buffalo shooting an act of “White supremacy terrorism.” She also bluntly stated that “the most serious threat we face as a nation … is White supremacism. It’s White nationalism, and it’s time we confronted it head-on.”
But Hochul did far more than just denounce the attack. In a lesson DeSantis should follow, she signed an executive order within days establishing a new state entity focused on the threat of domestic terrorism, together with addressing the role social media were playing in spreading hate. The executive order specifically cited the rise in “White supremacist and other like-minded terrorist attacks and plots.”
To back up this commitment, in August 2022, the governor announced that $10 million was being made available to New York City and the state’s 57 other counties to address the threat of such terrorism. At the time, Hochul declared, “In the wake of the horrific White supremacist attack in my hometown of Buffalo, we committed to confronting and eradicating the scourge of domestic terror.”
That is what leadership looks like. And it is exactly what DeSantis needs to do to show his commitment to address both saving lives from gun violence and the threat posed by White supremacy.
Florida saw 3,142 deaths involving a firearm, the third most in the nation, in 2021 — the last year statistics from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are available. This year alone, Florida has experienced more than 20 mass shootings, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit organization that defines mass shootings as any in which four or more people are wounded or killed excluding the shooter. And the state’s gun laws received a C-minus from the advocacy group Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. In contrast, New York scored an A-minus from the center, which ranked that state’s gun laws as the fourth-strictest in the nation.
Florida has also seen an alarming uptick in White supremacist extremism. The Anti-Defamation League released a report last year titled “Hate in the Sunshine State,” which found extremist incidents involving racial hate and antisemitism rose by 71% between 2020 and 2022. The report detailed that several extremist groups, including the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, are operating in Florida.
The racist-fueled shooting in Jacksonville is the perfect time for DeSantis to denounce White supremacy — and like Hochul in New York — dedicate resources to combating this scourge before more people are killed.
When DeSantis is passionate about issues — such as his anti-“woke” agenda that has led to restrictions on the teaching of Black history in Florida — he is outspoken and demands legislation be enacted. It’s time that he shows the same passion for both saving lives from gun violence and combating the poison of White supremacy.