In the aftermath of last week’s school shooting in Parkland, Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders on Friday unveiled similar proposals designed to improve school safety and keep guns out of the hands of people with mental health problems.
Scott spent this week meeting with state and local experts on school safety and mental health, as well as with students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where the shooting occurred.
“I have also spent a lot of time in Parkland meeting with families and students. I’ve been there nearly every day since the shooting. I have listened to their ideas to make sure this never happens again,” Scott said. “My message to them has been very simple – you are not alone. Change is coming… and it will come fast.”
The proposals being offered by Scott and legislators focus on changes in three areas: gun laws, school safety and mental health.
The plans would ban anyone under the age of 21 from being allowed to purchase any firearm in Florida. Current law only bans the sale of handguns to anyone under 21. The legislative proposals would also create a three day waiting period on the purchase of firearms. All three plans would ban the sale of bump stocks.
The governor is also calling for the creation of a “violent threat restraining order” in Florida. Under such an order, a court could prevent a violent or mentally ill person from owning a firearm when either “a family member, community welfare expert or law enforcement officer files a sworn request, and presents evidence to the court of a threat of violence involving firearms or other weapons.”
A person who has a firearm removed from their possession under such an order would have to wait a minimum of 60 days before they could petition a judge to have their gun returned.
“I’m an NRA member, a supporter of the 2nd Amendment, and the 1st Amendment, and the entire Bill of Rights, for that matter. I’m also a father, and a grandfather, and a governor,” Scott said. “We all have a difficult task in front of us: Balancing our individual rights with our obvious need for public safety.”
None of the proposals call for a ban of semi-automatic assault style weapons which brought criticism from legislative Democrats.
“We can beef up mental health screenings, raise the age for gun purchases, and dream up other stop gap measures, but the threat to our children and our citizens will continue until we finally take bold action to ban assault weapons designed for the battlefield from easy access in our communities,” said Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens. “Without that, the voices of the students, and the will of the people, continue to be ignored.”
The plans would also provide funding to harden schools making them more difficult for a deranged individual to gain access to a school facility. Scott says money would be made available to provide such safeguards as metal detectors, bulletproof glass, and steel doors. However, safety plans would be required before that money would be spent.
Scott called for the hiring of additional school safety officers saying each school should have at least one officer for each 1,000 students.
He stopped short of suggesting school’s arm their teachers and staff to help protect students. However, legislative leaders are recommending what they call a “marshal” program. Under the program, school employees would be trained and screened by law enforcement to carry guns on school grounds, but they would have to be certified as a law enforcement officer.
Scott admits the $500 million dollar may sound steep, but he says protecting Florida’s children is worth it.
“There is nothing more important than the safety of our children,” Scott said. “Our kids deserve nothing less. Fortunately, our economy is booming, and we have the resources to protect our schools and our students.”
House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, says legislators will do whatever it takes to pass a school safety package in the final two weeks of the regular session.
“Government has failed on multiple levels,” said Corcoran. “That can never happen again.”
Before announcing his proposal, Scott read the names of each of the 17 victims from the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“Unfortunately, none of the plans I’m announcing today will bring any of them back, but it’s important to remember them,” Scott said. “The seventeen lives that were cut short and all the hopes and dreams that were ruined have changed our state forever. Florida will never be the same.”
Following last week’s school shootings in Parkland in which 17 people were killed–14 students and three students–Scott said it was time to have a “real conversation” about the issue of school safety. He called law enforcement, educators and mental health experts from across the state to Tallahassee this past Tuesday for a series of emergency meetings to look for answers to the problem.
Improving mental health care has been one area where there has been agreement among state leaders that something needs to be done.
Authorities say 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz had a long history of mental health issues before he allegedly walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last week and opened fire with an AR-15 assault rifle. Officials say there were many signs that should have caused authorities to flag Cruz as a troubled individual that was a threat to others.