Three weeks after the fatal Parkland high school shooting, Florida Gov. Rick Scott faces a gun-control bill that falls short of what he and survivors of the massacre demanded, and he hasn’t said whether he’ll sign into law the legislation that challenges National Rifle Association orthodoxy.
“I’m going to take the time and I’m going to read the bill and I’m going to talk to families,” Scott said.
The Florida Legislature officially delivered the bill Thursday to Scott, who has 15 days to sign the bill, veto it or let it become law without his signature. While Scott would not say if he will sign it, family members of those killed said they have been asked to meet with him.
Andrew Pollack, whose daughter was among the 17 killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, said he was asked to stay in Tallahassee in order to meet with Scott on Friday. Pollack said other family members are also being asked to travel to the state Capitol.
The measure would raise the minimum age to buy rifles from 18 to 21 and create a waiting period on sales of the weapons. It also would create a so-called guardian program, enabling school employees and many teachers to carry handguns if they go through law enforcement training and their school district agrees to participate.
Other provisions would create new mental health programs for schools, establish an anonymous tip line where students and others could report threats to schools, ban bump stocks and improve communication between schools, law enforcement and state agencies.
The Tampa Bay Times reported that officials in the state’s largest school districts, including Miami-Dade and Broward counties, have balked at the idea of arming their employees and instead called for funding to support sworn law enforcement officers in their schools.
Teachers in school districts in some states, including Texas, can carry concealed weapons if they have required training. At least eight states allow, or don’t specifically prohibit, concealed weapons in K-12 schools, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. In Florida’s Polk County, teachers or other employees at two private universities have trained with the sheriff’s office so they can carry concealed weapons on campus.
Scott has gotten top marks from the NRA in the past for supporting gun-rights measures, but he broke with the lobbying group after last month’s slayings, calling for raising the minimum age to purchase any type of gun. He doesn’t support arming teachers, however, and had wanted lawmakers to adopt his own $500 million proposal to put one or more law enforcement officer in every school.
The NRA opposes raising age limits to buy weapons or imposing new waiting periods. In a statement Thursday, NRA and Unified Sportsmen of Florida lobbyist Marion Hammer called the bill “a display of bullying and coercion” that violated Second Amendment rights and punished law-abiding citizens.
The bill’s narrow passage reflected a mix of Republicans and Democrats in support and opposition. Survivors were split as well, but Pollack and Ryan Petty, who lost his 14-year-old daughter Alaina, said there was enough good in the bill that it should pass.
“More needs to be done, and it’s important for the country to be united in the same way the 17 families united in support of this bill,” Pollack said after the vote. “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 make sure I’m the last dad to ever read a statement of this kind.”
Republican Rep. Jay Fant, who is running for attorney general, said raising the minimum age to buy a rifle from 18 to 21 was unconstitutional, and he voted no on the bill.
“I just can’t imagine that Nikolas Cruz can commit such a heinous crime and then as a result we tell, potentially, a 20-year-old single mother living alone that she cannot purchase a firearm to defend herself,” Fant said.
Democratic Rep. Kristin Jacobs, whose district includes Stoneman Douglas, voted yes, even though she doesn’t like the idea of arming teachers.
“There is a cultural divide in this room, in this state and across the country. And there’s a bill before us that is not perfect,” she said.
Cruz was formally charged Wednesday with 17 counts of first-degree murder. The grand jury in Fort Lauderdale also indicted the 19-year-old on 17 counts of attempted murder for the Valentine’s Day massacre, which also wounded more than a dozen people.
Cruz’s public defender has said he will plead guilty if prosecutors take the death penalty off the table and sentence him to life in prison instead. Prosecutors have 45 days to decide.
The governor, who is expected to mount a U.S. Senate campaign to oust incumbent Democrat U.S. Bill Nelson, is in a tough spot, politically, after splitting with President Donald Trump and some Republicans over what should be done.
Polls suggest voters in Florida want tougher restrictions than what’s in the bill before Scott. A Quinnipiac University poll done more than a week after the shootings said 62 percent support a nationwide ban on “assault weapons” and 96 percent support background checks on all gun buyers. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.
Gov. Rick Scott Mum on if he’ll Sign Gun-Control Bill