Florida Politicians Consider Porn A Health Risk — But They Say Assault Weapons Are Just Fine

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A week after a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, legislators in the state's House of Representatives voted not to debate a bill that would have banned assault rifles. The same day, that same body passed a resolution declaring pornography a public health risk. This led to many to the conclude, not unreasonably, that Florida lawmakers think porn is worse than gun violence.

On Tuesday, Rep. Kionne McGhee motioned for HB 219, a bill that would ban assault rifles and high-capacity magazines in the state, to be brought to the House floor for a debate and vote; the bill had been previously introduced, but was languishing in committee. Survivors of the Parkland shooting, many of whom are publicly lobbying for stronger gun laws in the wake of the massacre, were in the House gallery awaiting the outcome of McGhee's motion, but the Florida House voted it down — effectively killing the assault weapons ban.

Earlier in the same day, however, that same legislative body approved a resolution that declared pornography to be a public health risk. GOP Rep. Ross Spano, the resolution's sponsor, claimed that there is a link between pornography and mental and physical illness, especially in teenagers. His resolution calls for research and policy changes to address this supposed link.

In the eyes of many observers, the Florida House sent a clear message on Tuesday: Porn is a bigger threat to America's kids than guns.

"17 kids just died from guns so let's ban porn instead of even talking about that other issue!," one Twitter user quipped.

"Pornography doesn't kill children. AK-15s do," another user wrote, tagging Spano himself in the tweet. "Your priorities are warped and sick. You want to protect children's health? Show some leadership to get rid of the guns. They kill children. Porno doesn't kill. Shame on you."

"Refusing to have a debate about guns and declaring pornography a health risk crisis," read another critical tweet. "That’s it guys, we’re officially living in a South Park episode."

The Florida Republicans who voted for the anti-porn resolution are not outliers within the GOP. In 2016, the national Republican Party's official policy platform declared that pornography is a "public health risk," but contained no corresponding declaration regarding firearms. In addition, legislatures in six states — Utah, South Dakota, Kansas, Arkansas, Tennessee and Virginia — have all passed resolutions that designate pornography as a public health concern of some sort or another. For almost two decades, Utah even had a "porn czar" in the state capitol tasked with curbing pornography use amongst Utahns.

Although there is no single accepted definition of what constitutes a "public health crisis," the Centers for Disease Control told CNN in 2016 that the agency "does not have an established position on pornography as a public health issue." Eric Schrimshaw, a Columbia public health professor who's studied pornography, said that there is "very little research evidence to suggest that pornography is a 'public health hazard."

"Pornography may be correlated with more permissive sexual attitudes, but that does not necessarily mean that pornography caused those sexual attitudes," Scrimshaw told CNN. "It could be just as possible that those individuals with pre-existing permissive sexual attitudes are just more likely to choose to view pornography."

Not everyone on social media disagreed with the Florida House's decision, however. One Twitter user argued that "guns are gonna protect people from attacks like in Parkland," but pornography "will not protect people and should be wiped out completely."

Sheryl Acquaroli, a junior at Stoneman Douglas High, told CNN that it was "heartbreaking" to see Florida Republicans reject the proposed assault weapons ban.

“It seemed almost heartless how they immediately pushed the button to say 'no,'" Acquaroli said.