A package that aims to both harden schools and change Florida gun laws passed the state House just two days after it was approved by the Senate.
With the end of the session looming this week, House Speaker Richard Corcoran spent all day Tuesday shepherding often-emotional floor debate on the state Senate’s broad gun control measure, SB 7026, before holding a vote Wednesday that saw the measure pass 67-50. Instead of changing the bill’s language, no less than 32 proposed House amendments to the sweeping legislation were rejected, which left the Senate to enroll the bill and prep it for Gov. Rick Scott.
“We can never replace the 17 lives that were lost at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and we can never erase the traumatic experience that lives on in the memories of those who survived this horrific attack,” said Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart. “However, 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. We can and we will increase the resources available to identify and treat those suffering from mental illness, improve the safety and security of our schools, and ensure those suffering from mental illness do not have access to firearms.”
The 105-page bill makes it a felony to possess a bump stock or similar device, raises the age to buy rifles and shotguns to 21 statewide, and mandates a three-day wait on most gun transfers with some exceptions. A “red flag” provision would allow police or the family of a person thought to be at risk to file to have the individual’s guns temporarily seized. The bill includes some $400 million in authorizations to increase school security, memorialize Florida’s worst school shooting, establish a commission to investigate the event which occurred on Feb. 14 and create a $67 million “guardian” program of law-enforcement trained armed volunteer school faculty.
It is the last aspect that drew fire from some Democrats and gun control advocates, who would rather Scott veto the measure outright than allow guns in schools.
“While I support some of the better features of this bill, such as restrictions on firearm purchases for those under the age of 21, the ban on bump stocks, additional mental health funding, and school hardening, I will be unable to support this legislation as long as it allows civilians to be armed in the presence of our children,” said state Sen. Gary Farmer, who argues it would be better for the governor to reject the bill and allow lawmakers to return in a special session this summer to keep hammering away at it. Farmer is a supporter of adding an “assault weapon” ban to the measure.
Gun rights groups such as Florida Carry, Students for Concealed Carry and the National Rifle Association panned most of the bill, arguing that, while lawmakers should up security in schools and tighten mental health laws to keep guns from those who shouldn’t have them, steps such as raising the purchase age to 21, banning broadly defined bump stocks and expanding waiting periods are an unconstitutional attack on Second Amendment rights. Marion Hammer, past NRA president and current head of the Unified Sportsmen of Florida, said in an alert this week that the bill “punishes law-abiding citizens for the actions of a mentally ill teenager who murdered 17 people after Florida officials repeatedly refused to get him the help he needed,” and that the bill moved forward due to “turncoat Republicans.”
Approved just three weeks after the shooting, and only 15 days after it was introduced, SB 7026 is the largest and, so far, most successful attempt at increasing gun restrictions in the state’s modern legislative history.
In the past, multi-tiered gun control packages rushed through state legislatures in the wake of tragic events have often proven to be rife with unanticipated flaws. In 2013, Connecticut and New York both quickly passed sweeping measures in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. In each of these cases, the laws had to be tweaked and adjusted several times while fighting off lengthy court battles and are still controversial a half-decade later. State police in both states are currently swamped with backlogs of firearms licenses that are continued fall-out from bills whose critics argue were poorly constructed. Further, non-compliance is thought to be widespread while some mandated elements, for instance, background checks for ammunition sales in the Empire State, have been on hold for years.
Scott, who has been publicly stumping for his own plan of increased school security and gun control, many aspects of which are in the bill headed his way, has not said whether he will approve or veto the measure.
“When a bill makes it to my desk I’ll do what they don’t seem to be doing in Washington,” Scott said, as reported by The Sun Sentinel. “I’m going to review the bill line by line.”