The Florida House on Wednesday passed legislation that would impose new restrictions on firearm sales and allow some teachers and staff to carry guns in school.
Spurred by the February 14 school shooting in Parkland, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act passed 67-50. It now goes to Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who has 15 days to sign it.
The bill evolved over 10 days of impassioned, often contentious debate in Florida’s majority Republican House and Senate, as lawmakers rushed to pass something before the legislative session ends on Friday.
For some shooting survivors who wanted an assault weapons ban, the measure didn’t go far enough; for some Republican lawmakers who opposed stricter measures on gun ownership, it went too far.
Scott expressed reservations about provisions to arm personnel and institute a three-day wait period to buy guns. Earlier Wednesday, he vowed to review the bill “line by line” before signing it. “The group that I’m going to be talking to – the groups that I care most about right now because it impacted them so much – is the families,” Scott said.
Speaking on behalf of the 17 families who lost loved ones in the shooting, Ryan Petty, whose daughter was killed, urged Scott to sign the bill.
“We know that when it comes to preventing future acts of school violence, today’s vote is just the beginning of our journey. We applaud the members of the Florida Legislature that courageously voted against their own political self-interest to do the right thing for the safety of our schools.”
What the bill says
The final version includes the following measures:
- Raise the age to purchase a firearm to 21 from 18;
- Require a three-day waiting period for firearm purchases, with some exceptions;
- Ban the sale or possession of bump fire stocks, which allow a semiautomatic weapon to fire more like an automatic weapon;
- Give law enforcement more authority to seize weapons and ammunition from those deemed mentally unfit or otherwise a threat;
- Provide additional funding for armed school resource officers and mental health services.
The sticking point
Whether to sign the bill is an important political consideration for Scott, who is term-limited and is widely expected to challenge Florida’s Democratic US senator, Bill Nelson, in the November midterm election.
Scott has consistently stated his opposition to the most contentious provision of the bill that would arm some teachers and staff through a firearms safety and training program named for a coach who died in the shooting while protecting students.
On Monday, the Senate limited which teachers could participate in the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program – “a step in the right direction,” Scott’s office said.
Those who “exclusively perform classroom duties as classroom teachers” wouldn’t be allowed to participate in the program. Teachers who perform additional duties, like coaching football or heading the drama club, would be allowed to participate, along with administrators and cafeteria workers.
Another change increased the number of training hours required from 132 to 144, along with other criteria, The additional 12 hours of diversity training was the only Democratic amendment that passed in the Senate.
An amendment to drop the program was denied on Tuesday after intense debate on the House floor. Several representatives spoke out in favor of removing the program. Rep. Cynthia Stafford, a Democrat, called it a dangerous policy that could disproportionately impact students of color who might be mistaken for shooters.
Others expressed concerns about placing the burden on districts to ensure safety.
“School districts cannot handle the liability of the Guardian Program. Florida legislators have taken the Pontius Pilate approach regarding ensuring our children – our most defenseless – are safe,” Paula D. Wright, Chairman of Duval County School Board said in a statement.
“They hurriedly passed an ill-advised and ill-equipped plan to say ‘we have acted, and now we wash our hands and transfer all the burden to school districts and sheriffs.’”
‘I’m a father and I’m on a mission’
Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow died in the shooting, was in the gallery for the vote. The chamber erupted in applause as he stood in front of the crowd afterward.
Pollack said the bill may not be perfect, but it’s better than nothing, and he urged Scott to sign it.
“We thank the House and Senate for voting in favor of protecting our children. But more needs to be done and it’s important for the country to unite in the same way the 17 families united in support of this bill,” he said.
“My precious daughter Meadow’s life was taken and there’s nothing I can do to change that. But make no mistake, I’m a father and I’m on a mission. I’m on a mission to ensure that I am the last dad to ever read a statement of this kind.
“If you want to help me and keep our children safe I want you to follow me because there’s strength in numbers.”