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Parkland-Inspired Bill on Guns, School Safety Heads to Florida Governor's Desk

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In defiance of opposition from the National Rifle Association, Florida lawmakers passed a bill Wednesday that would introduce some new gun restrictions and school safety measures after a Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

But the bill contains a controversial voluntary statewide program for arming school staff, and Gov. Rick Scott, who has expressed reservations about such plans, had not said Wednesday if he would sign it.

The House passed the bill by a 67-50 vote Wednesday after the Senate voted 20-18 in favor Monday.

The bill was supported by family members of all 17 victims of the Stoneman Douglas shooting, who wrote to lawmakers to insist on its passage, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

"This issue cannot wait,″ the families wrote. "The moment to pass this bill is now. We must be the last families to suffer the loss of a loved one due to a mass shooting at a school. We demand action by the entire Florida Legislature to keep our schools safe."

If it becomes law, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act would:

  • establish the "Aaron Feis Guardian Program," a voluntary program through which school employees could be trained and armed. It's named for a Parkland football coach who's been called a hero for his actions to shield students during the attack.

  • create a commission to "investigate system failures in the Parkland school shooting and prior mass violence incidents, and develop recommendations for system improvements." 

  • establish a program "to assist school personnel in preparing for and responding to active emergency situations and to implement local notification systems for all Florida public schools."

  • provide $400 million for school mental health services and security measures, including metal detectors and the placement of at least one police officer in every school.

In addition to those school safety provisions, the bill would raise the age requirements for all gun purchases from 18 to 21 in response to concerns that the Parkland shooting suspect was able to purchase a powerful AR-15 rifle, and it would impose a three-day waiting period for firearms purchases. It would prohibit the sale of bump stocks, which can be used to modify guns to function like automatic weapons. The bill would give law enforcement more authority to seize weapons from people who are deemed a possible threat, a measure that Broward County law enforcement pushed for after the shooting.

Even lawmakers who voted to pass the bill called it imperfect. While some Democrats called the measure to arm school staff "a poison pill," some Republicans expressed concern about imposing more restrictions on gun purchases.

The bill is opposed by the National Rifle Association, which told its members to push lawmakers to vote against it.

"Urge them to provide armed security in schools and tighten mental health laws to keep guns out of the hands of those who are a danger to themselves or others BUT LEAVE THE RIGHTS OF LAW-ABIDING GUN OWNERS ALONE," the organization said in a message to its members.

The bill also drew concern from civil rights groups, who said adding more law enforcement officers to schools may cause particular harm to black and Latino students, who are arrested at school at higher rates than their white peers.

"Increasing funding for police in Florida schools will not lead to safer campuses and communities for students," said Judith Browne-Dianis, executive director of Advancement Project. "We have seen the damaging impact to young people, particularly students of color, when lawmakers respond to school shootings with increased police presence in schools."

Photo: Mourners gather at a candlelight vigil for the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. --Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times/TNS


Further reading on Parkland and school shootings:

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