Florida House OKs first gun controls in 20+ years; Gov. Scott won't say if he'll sign it
Eyes now on Governor Rick Scott who refuses to say whether he will sign a bill that includes a provision to arm some school teachers and staff
The Florida House sent the state’s first gun control measures in 22 years to Gov. Rick Scott on a 67-50 vote. The measure that also creates a program that would arm some classroom teachers and staff comes three weeks after 17 were shot and killed at a Parkland high school.
It was Florida’s third mass shooting since 2016. Added to the Pulse nightclub massacre and the Fort Lauderdale airport shooting, 71 people have died in such shootings.
Scott said he will talk with family members of those killed at Stoneman Douglas High before he decides whether to sign or veto the measure.
“I’m going to take the time to read the bill,” said Scott. “I have been clear. I don’t believe we should be arming teachers.”
Our opinion: Guns and the primary problem
The bill includes a three-day waiting period for most gun purchases, raises the minimum age to 21 to purchase a gun and gives police more authority to confiscate weapons.
While defying the National Rifle Association on gun control, the Legislature lined up behind a first-in-the-nation school marshal plan that would arm teachers and staff.
Eligible to carry guns into schools would be a teacher who is a member of the U.S. Reserves or National Guard, in the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps program, or is a current or former law enforcement officer. Staff members could volunteer for the program but classroom teachers who exclusively perform instruction would be blocked from the program.
Three weeks after survivors and thousands of students converged on the Capitol demanding an assault weapons ban, Parkland parents got behind the more modest gun control bill Wednesday. Still, educators and teachers' unions voiced opposition to the plan.
“The Leon Classroom Teachers Association does not want anyone in the schools with a weapon who is not a sworn law enforcement officer,” said Scott Mazur, LCTA President. "There's good and bad in this bill. I guess it comes down to morals."
The marshal program, which was renamed the "guardian program," was one of three objections opponents used to try to kill the bill. Another was the House’s refusal to ban assault weapons. Others wanted to reject new restrictions on access to guns. They said they saw no need to punish law-abiding citizens for the act of a madman.
Through two days of debate, the opposition refused to stand down and Wednesday some pushed for a special session to deal with school safety and guns. Democrats huddled in the morning and voted 21-9 to vote no as a caucus.
Democratic Leader Janet Cruz advised the group to vote in their constituents' best interests.
"We live in America. You are allowed to voice your opinion without political prosecution," Cruz told the nine breaking from the pack. "No one should be bullied for their decision or their vote."
The group wanting to vote down the bill then went to work in trying to extend the session and produce what they hope would be stronger gun laws and an automatic weapons ban.
“This giant gun package has been cobbled together with half-baked ideas that haven’t been fully vetted and is being crammed down our throats,” said Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando. “We need more time if we want a comprehensive approach to address the epidemic of gun violence in Florida."
Supporters said they could not walk away from nearly a half billion dollars for school security and mental health programs.
“If you vote against this proposal it will be because you did not get everything you wanted,” said Rep. George Moriatis, R-Fort Lauderdale. “There is always next year, members.”
While the House debated the proposal, parents who lost children at Stoneman Douglas lobbied the governor, lawmakers and the media to get the bill approved saying, "there is enough good in the middle of this bill that everyone can agree on.”
“We have different opinions, different backgrounds,” said Ryan Petty one of the 17 Stoneman Douglas families that lost a family member and signed a letter in support of the proposal.
“(But) We came together and are united behind this legislation and our ask is the Florida House come together as the families have done and pass this bill,’’ said Petty whose 14-year old daughter was killed in the shooting.
The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act provides:
- $400 million for mental health and school safety programs,
- $98 million to make schools more physically secured
- $87 million to establish a Safe Schools program
- $69 million for mental health assistance
- $25 million to replace the classroom building where the massacre occurred
- $18.3 million for mobile crisis teams
- $500,000 for mental health first aid training
The measure also contains new gun regulations:
- a minimum age of 21 to purchase a gun
- a three-day waiting period for most gun purchases
- easier confiscation of firearms by law enforcement in cases of threats against individuals and public safety.
Throughout the day Republican supporters worked opponents on both sides of the aisle to not derail the proposal over Second Amendment concerns.
“It does not infringe on your constitutional rights,” said Rep. Rick Roth, R-Loxahatchee, in a rare floor speech by the first-term legislator.
“It’s better to vote yes today for something that is certain and in your hands right now,” he advised the Second Amendment advocates. “If we totally fail this year, then next year we could get something worse for you, my conservative friends, than what we have today.”
Incoming House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami, said he does not think the Legislature is done with guns and violence.
“It will continue into years to come,” said Oliva Tuesday night. “This is a conversation that just started and I think you will see it spill into future sessions.”
For now, all eyes are on Scott.
Reporters pressed him after Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting while the debate raged in the House chambers on whether he will sign a bill that allows some teachers to carry a firearm into the classroom.
In a three-minute, thirty-second exchange with reporters, Scott repeated nine times: "...I am going to take the time to read the bill and talk to families."
Scott will have 10 days to sign or veto it or it becomes law without his signature.
Reporter James Call can be reached at email@example.com.
Rep Ramon Alexander thinks the Florida Legislature made a half-hearted effort in writing new gun laws. He says lawmakers didn't "leave it all on the field" James Call
HOW THEY VOTED
Big Bend Democrats Loranne Ausley and Ramon Alexander voted no, while Republican Halsey Beshears voted for the measure.