Wednesday’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 17 people has reignited the debate over what society can do to prevent future masacres from happening.
“Everything’s on the table,” Gov. Rick Scott told CNN in an interview Thursday. “I’m going to look at every way that we can make sure our kids are safe.”
The shootings have shaken state lawmakers who are heading into the final weeks of their 2018 regular session. The tragedy in Parkland and the lives that were lost in the shooting has dominated discussion in the halls of the state Capitol. Legislators from both sides of the aisle agree something needs to be done.
“This senseless act of evil is absolutely heart wrenching,” Scott said. “Our entire state is in mourning, and we have to make sure something like this never happens again. The violence must stop.”
But the question of how do you stop the violence evokes a range of solutions–from tighter gun controls to increasing school security.
Lawmakers agree more can be done to improve safety at schools, as well as mental health services for students.
“I am asking my colleagues in the Florida Senate and House to join me in findings ways to immediately direct funds to our schools statewide, so they can evaluate and implement a school hardening plan that will strengthen the presence of armed resource officers and harden the entry points for our schools,” Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, the Senate’s president-designate said Thursday.
Galvano is backing an effort to allocate $100 million in next year’s budget to improve security at Florida’s schools, $40 million of that money would go to a pilot program intended to enhance mental health screening counseling and training at those schools.
But legislative Democrats say it will take more than hardening schools and improving mental health services to prevent future tragedies like what happened Wednesday.
“The time for hand-wringing is over, the helpless words of ‘thoughts and prayers’ must be replaced by action,” said Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Ft. Lauderdale. “Languishing in the Senate and House are bills that would not erase the pain of the massacre that just happened, but it will go far toward halting similar mass killings in the future. I call on this legislature to take them up immediately.”
One of those bills would ban the sale of military-style assault weapons, like the AR-15 used in the Parkland school shooting. Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, first proposed the ban after the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando more than a year ago. Her bill has yet to be heard in a committee meeting.
“I am sad. I am angry. We have 17 dead children,” said Senator Stewart. “It is pathetic that we as adults cannot have a meaningful conversation about assault weapons. We have a responsibility to act. There is no legitimate reason whatsoever to own these weapons designed for mass murder. We’re not taking anybody’s guns away and we’re not infringing on anybody’s right to hunt or to protect themselves.”
Meanwhile, a bill filed two months ago by Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, that would allow certain school officials to carry concealed weapons on campus, was placed on the Senate Judiciary committee calendar on Thursday. The bill is scheduled to be heard Tuesday. Under the measure, school district officials would be allowed to designate school personnel to bring concealed weapon to school providing they pass a criminal background check and receive proper training.
School safety will surely dominate the final weeks of the legislative session and stir impassioned debate among lawmakers.
Scott has said it’s time to have a “real conversation” about how to keep students safe in schools. The Governor’s Office is organizing meetings with state and local leaders in Tallahassee next week to discuss school safety. Scott says discussions will focus on ways to keep Florida students safe, including school safety improvements and keeping guns away from individuals struggling with mental illness.