The minimum age to buy a gun in Florida could soon become 21, and all public schools could have either armed officers or armed teachers, under proposals made by Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders Friday.
Scott and the Republican leaders of both the House and Senate held separate news conferences to unveil proposals they say they want to complete this legislative session to boost school safety, increase funding for mental health and restrict access to firearms by people who shouldn’t have them, at a cost of $400 million to $500 million.
The proposals come in response to the mass shooting that killed 14 students and three adults at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Feb. 14.
They also come two days after thousands of students and supporters rallied at the Capitol demanding tougher gun laws, including a ban on assault weapons — the one increase in gun control that neither Scott nor the Republican legislative leadership was willing to make Friday.
Banning firearms of any kind would run afoul of the Constitution and would not address “underlying problems,” Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said during the House and Senate leaders’ noon conference to explain their school safety plan.
With just 14 days left in the session, the House and Senate leaders moved swiftly to craft joint legislation, including three bills that were drafted Friday: SPB 7022 on firearm safety, SPB 7024 on public records exemptions and SPB 7026 on school safety.
“We’re going to do whatever it takes to get that done. Our slogan is ‘Never Again,’” House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land-O’Lakes, in a reference to the Douglas High students’ “Never Again” movement.
Scott, who is expected to challenge Democrat Bill Nelson for the U.S. Senate in November, delivered his school security plan about an hour before the lawmakers offered their.
“I also understand that I am proposing half a billion dollars for school safety and mental health initiatives,” Scott said. “But let me be clear – there is nothing more important than the safety of our children. Our kids deserve nothing less. Fortunately, our economy is booming, and we have the resources to protect our schools and our students.
“And, if providing this funding means we won’t be able to cut taxes this year – so be it. And, if we have to give up some of the projects we all hold near and dear – so be it.”
But there will be opposition.
“Florida Carry opposes any new regulation on law-abiding citizens because of the actions of criminals. We’re rushing to punish law-abiding gun owners rather than focusing on the failure of government to do its job,” said Eric Friday, general counsel for the guns-rights nonprofit, who said even the age restrictions are an affront to a citizen’s right to carry firearms.
And Nelson was critical, particularly of Scott.
“Students, parents and teachers across our state are demanding action - but instead of listening to them, it’s clear the governor is once again choosing to listen only to the NRA. The governor’s plan doesn’t do one thing to ensure comprehensive criminal background checks or ban assault rifles, like the AR-15. His leadership is weak and by recommending raising the age to 21 he is doing the bare minimum,” Nelson said in a written statement released by his office.
Besides raising the minimum age to legally buy firearms – including rifles – to 21, both the governor’s and the legislators’ plans would require all students and school staff to under go active-shooter training and both would make bump stocks illegal in Florida. Bump stocks are devices that use the recoil of a semi-automatic firearm to enable the gun to fire as if it were a fully automatic firearm.
Both also would increase money in the budget for increasing the number of mental health counselors in public schools.
And both would increase funding for school hardening measures, including metal detectors, bullet-proof glass, steel doors and upgraded locks. But Scott said the school hardening money would come from capital outlay funds, which would have to be used for school hardening before they could be used for other school construction and improvement. This would apply to charter schools too, Scott said.
There are other, starker differences between the proposals.
Under the legislative school safety proposal (SPB 7026), teachers could carry concealed weapons if they complete 132 hours of training in the Florida Sheriff’s Marshall Program under the direction of a sheriff’s office, Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Fort Myers, told the Palm Beach Post.
But Scott’s proposal does not include arming teachers. Instead he would require at least one sworn sheriff’s deputy or police officer in every school, with a goal of one officer per 1,000 students, by the start of the 2018-2019 school year.
“I disagree with arming teachers,” he said. “I’m going to do everything I can to see we focus on law enforcement.”
The legislative plan also would establish a 3-day waiting period for the purchase of guns except for concealed weapons permit holders or those who complete a state-approved hunter safety course, something Scott did not include, although Galvano said, “I think he will be supportive of that.”
The plans also differ in their costs. Scott said his plan will need $500 million, with $450 million going toward school safety and $50 to improving mental health care including counselors in every school. Legislators say their plan will cost $400 million to $500 million.
Another difference was that Scott’s presentation Friday was more detailed than lawmakers’.
For instance, while both plans said they would require active-shooter training for students and school personnel, Scott wants it done in the first week of each semester.
Scott also wants to create something he called a Violent Threat Restraining Order, which would allow a court to prohibit a violent or mentally ill person from purchasing or possessing a firearm following a request and presentation of evidence from a family member or police officer of a threat of violence involving firearms or other weapons.
Scott said such a restraining order could have been used in the case of 19-year-old, former Douglas High student Nickolas Cruz, who Broward County sheriff’s deputies say was the gunman and whose attorney has said he has suffered from mental illness.
Cruz was not stopped from buying guns or forced to turn them in despite a number of “warning signs,” including more than 30 visits to his home from law enforcement, a Department of Children and Family investigations and expulsion from school, Scott said.
“What I am saying is no one with mental issues should have access to guns,” Scott said. “It’s common sense, and it is in their own best interest, not to mention the interests of our communities.”
Scott also wants people who are subject to an injunction for protection against stalking, cyberstalking, dating violence, repeat violence, sexual violence, or domestic violence to be prohibited from owning a firearm. No such provision exists under the legislative proposal (SPB 7022).
Committees in both the House and Senate will begin discussing the proposals on Monday. It’s not clear how much of Scott’s proposal will be included in the legislative proposal.
Emilie Smith, a North Broward Preparatory School student who traveled to the capital to speak with legislators about gun control, called raising the age limit “a step in the right direction but it’s not enough.”
“We need to keep pressing legislators to make changes,” she said. “We can’t change in a week. It’s a process.”
- Create Violent Threat Restraining Order, which would prohibit violent or mentally ill person from buying or possessing a firearm or any other weapon 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.
- Strengthen gun purchase and possession restrictions for mentally ill individuals under the Baker Act. If a court involuntarily commits someone because they are a risk to themselves or others, they would be required to surrender all firearms and not regain their right to buy or possess a firearm until a court hearing. Would require minimum 60-day period before individuals can ask court to restore access to firearms.
- Set minimum age of 21 to buy firearms, except for active duty and reserve military and spouses, National Guard members, and law enforcement.
- Prohibit people from possessing or buying firearms if they are subject to an injunction for protection against stalking, cyberstalking, dating violence, repeat violence, sexual violence or domestic violence.
- Enhance criminal penalties for threats to schools, like social media threats of shootings or bombings, and for anyone who possesses or buys a gun illegally.
- Ban the sale of bump stocks.
- Require a law enforcement officer in every public school by the start of 2018-2019 school year. These law enforcement officers must either be sworn sheriff’s deputies or police officers and be present during all hours students are on campus. Proposes at least one law enforcement officer for every 1,000 students.
- Require active shooter training, as outlined by the Department of Homeland Security, for all faculty and students by first week of each semester in all public schools. Sheriff’s offices must approve and be involved in training.
- Increase funding for school hardening measures, including metal detectors, bullet-proof glass, steel doors, and upgraded locks. Florida Departments of Education and Law Enforcement will provide minimum school safety and security standards by July 1 to all school districts.
- Require school safety plans to be submitted to county sheriff by July 1 each year for approval. Approved plans will be forwarded to state DOE by school district to receive any state funds.
- Require school districts to use capital outlay funds received from taxpayers for school hardening before it can be spent on any other capital outlay.
- Require school districts receiving state school safety money to share information with sheriff’s office and state agencies to help coordinate prevention and intervention strategies.
- Establish new, anonymous K-12 “See Something, Say Something” statewide, dedicated hotline, website and mobile app.
- Establish funding to require access to dedicated mental health counselors at every school. These counselors cannot serve dual roles, like teaching or academic advising.
- Require each school to have a threat assessment team including a teacher, local law enforcement officer,human resource officer, state Department of Children and Families employee, state Department of Juvenile Justice employee and the principal to meet monthly to review any potential threats to school.
- Require crisis intervention training for all school personnel by start of 2018-2019 school year.
- Seek $450 million in state budget for these school safety initiatives.
- Expand mental health service teams statewide to serve youth and young adults with early or serious mental illness by providing counseling, crisis management and other critical mental health services.
- Require sheriffs to have a DCF case manager embedded in their departments to solely work as a crisis welfare worker for repeat cases in the community. This will require 67 additional employees to be hired at DCF by July 15.
- Provide law enforcement and mental health coordination matching grants to allow sheriffs to establish special law enforcement teams to coordinate with DCF case managers.
- Seek $50 million in budget for these mental health initiatives.
Lawmakers expect to spend $400 million-$500 million on these issues:
- Increase minimum age for buying firearm to 21, except for law enforcement and active military personnel.
- Establish 3-day waiting period for purchase of firearms except for concealed weapons permit holders or those who complete 16-hour hunter safety course approved by the Fish and Wildlife Commission. Provides time for criminal history checks.
- Ban bump stocks.
- Allow courts to temporarily restrict firearm possession by people undergoing a mental health crisis and when there is evidence of a threat of violence.
- Prohibit people adjudicated mentally defective or committed to a mental institution from owning or buying firearms or obtaining concealed weapon license. Current law prohibits purchase, but does not limit possession.
- Screen and train school personnel, including teachers, to carry firearms and function as part of school security teams.
- Require active shooter and hostage situation training, conducted by law enforcement experts, for all students and school personnel.
- Provide funding to allow schools to add school resource and security officers and complete school hardening measures.
- Establish safe school and security standards, review school safety and security plans and implement a school safety specialist training program.
- Require each school district to designate school safety specialist and each school to establish a threat assessment team to evaluate and respond to students posing threats of violence.
- Codify and improve multiagency network for students with emotional and behavioral disabilities (SEDNET).
- Remove legal barriers preventing school district and law enforcement authorities from referring students to mental health services or law enforcement.
- Increase funding for mental health training, screening, counseling and services in schools.
- Create public records exemptions to prevent disclosure of certain personal information about victims and their families.
MASS SHOOTING PREVENTION
- Establish statewide commission to investigate system failures in the Parkland school shooting and prior mass shootings and make recommendations for improvements in policies and procedures affecting communication and coordination among schools, law enforcement and social service agencies in responding to potentially violent individuals and situations.
- Require school, law enforcement, and service agency officials to provide information to each other and work together when dealing with the same at-risk youth.