- By Kenya Woodard Post Capital Correspondent
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.”