With just two weeks remaining in this year’s legislative session, members of a Senate committee began debate Monday afternoon on a series of bills intended to improve school safety.
An effort to amend one of the bill’s to include a ban on semi-automatic weapons, like the AR-15 that authorities say was used in the Parkland shooting, was defeated by the committee. Dozens of gun control advocates who were in the committee meeting room erupted into a chant of “vote them out” following the rejection of the amendment.
Some of the bills taken up by the Senate Rules committee include proposed changes to existing gun laws that are opposed by the National Rifle Association, the powerful gun lobby that usually works closely with the Republican-controlled Legislature. But, the NRA now finds itself fighting for gun rights in a political arena that it has virtually controlled over the years.
The proposed legislation was introduced by legislative leaders on Friday as part of a reform package designed to prevent another school shooting like the one at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Seventeen people were killed.
The House and Senate versions are separate, but similar.
Both plans would require anyone who wants to purchase a firearm must be 21. They would ban the sale of bump stocks and would require a three day waiting period on most gun purchases.
The head of the NRA in Florida told Politico she will fight the proposed changes.
“Absolutely,” said Marion Hammer. “I have no answer for why Republicans who profess to be strong Second Amendment advocates would abandon law-abiding gun owners to pass gun control to pretend they are doing something.”
Gov. Rick Scott, who presented his own school safety package Friday, which is also similar to the legislative proposals, defended the proposed changes to the gun laws.
“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.”
House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, said Friday that 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.”
But legislative Democrats ask why now? They say they’ve been trying to fight gun violence for more than two decades, filing legislation year-after-year that never gets a committee hearing.
“Where were you when Pulse happened? What about the Fort Lauderdale shooting? We warned you of these things, about the possibility of them happening, Kionne McGhee, D-Miami Now, because it is politically convenient, you come here on this day..to ask for change, but the change you’re asking for is too late.”
The three school safety plans also include procedures for taking weapons from those with mental health problems. They also call for a $500 million allocation to provide mental health services and to harden school buildings.
One of the area’s where the governor’s plan differs from the House and Senate versions is that it doesn’t call for the arming of teachers and school staff. The legislative proposals would establish a “marshal” program that would school personnel to carry a concealed weapon on campus if they have proper training and are certified as a law enforcement officer. Scott’s plan would provide additional school security officers.
The Senate proposals are scheduled to be heard by the Senate Appropriations committee Tuesday morning before going before the full Senate for a vote.
The House is scheduled to begin debate on it’s proposals on Tuesday.