Florida Senate passes school safety bill that excludes ban on assault rifles

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9:13 p.m Monday, March 5, 2018 Nation & World
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A weapon is used on the indoor firing range at the National Armory gun store in Pompano Beach, Florida. The Florida Senate passed a school safety bill Monday, which now goes to the Florida House after a shooting at a Parkland high school left 17 dead.

The Florida Senate on Monday passed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, almost three weeks after 17 people were killed and more than a dozen injured in a shooting at the Parkland school.

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The legislation includes increased funding for gun and school safety and for mental health resources. It also establishes the Marshal program, which would allow school personnel to receive law enforcement training and carry a concealed weapon on campus.

"The opportunity to meet with and listen to survivors ... as well as the families of the victims has had a tremendous impact on each and every senator," Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said in an emailed statement. "We are listening. The Senate hears you, and we are taking the appropriate steps to help ensure that a senseless tragedy like this never happens again."

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Sen. President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said Monday that the Senate will increase resources for school safety and security and for preventing those with mental illness from accessing guns.

"We will do everything we can to address the failure of government to effectively address the numerous warning signs that should have identified the perpetrator as a danger to others," Negron said.

Senators hammered out the legislation during a rare special session in Tallahassee over the weekend.

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The Senate spent nearly eight hours Saturday debating dozens of amendments to the 100-page bill before voting to approve the legislation Monday.

Democratic proposals to ban assault rifles and large-capacity magazines were rejected, as was a Democratic proposal to strip language from the bill that would create the Marshal progam.

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It was clear that senators were divided on the bill, and not just on party lines. While crafted by Republicans, some GOP senators still opposed it because they don't agree with raising the minimum age to buy a rifle from 18 to 21 or requiring a waiting period to buy the weapons.

Democrats believe the legislation doesn't go far enough in some ways and too far in others. And while some oppose the bill, others believe it's at least a first step toward gun safety.

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Democrats want to ban weapons such as the AR-15 assault-style rifle, which was used in the Parkland attack. Many also oppose arming teachers. The bill also includes provisions to boost school security, establish new mental health programs in schools, and improve communication between schools, law enforcement and state agencies.

Jeff Xavier, a survivor of the Pulse attack, was hoping the legislation would include a ban on assault rifles.

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Students leave Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School after attending their classes for the first time since the shooting that killed 17 people on February 14 at the school on February 28, 2018 in Parkland, Florida.

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“I think that, as Americans, we do have a right to arm ourselves. However, I do not believe that high-powered, high-velocity (guns) should be available to the general public," Xavier said.

But much of the debate Saturday revolved around gun control and whether people should have a right to own an assault rifle.

"Every constitutional right that we hold dear has a limitation," said Democratic Sen. Gary Farmer. "These are just military-style killing machines and the right of self-defense and the ability to hunt will go on."

Republicans argued that banning such weapons would violate the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

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"Our founding fathers weren't talking about hunting, and they weren't talking about protecting themselves from the thief down the street who might break in," said Republican Sen. David Simmons.

Simmons said people need guns to protect themselves from a tyrannical government.

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The Legislature wraps up its annual session Friday. Lawmakers are scrambling to take some kind of action before then. The full House has yet to take up its version of the bill.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott has been lobbying lawmakers to pass his plan to assign at least one law enforcement officer for every 1,000 students at a school. Scott is opposed to arming teachers.

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2/26/2018 - PARKLAND SHOOTING: Douglas High junior Maddy Wilford on Monday, Feb. 26, 2018, talks about her recovery from the multiple gunshot wounds she sustained in the Feb. 14 shooting.