With Florida House's Passage, Gun Safety Bill Now Heads To Gov. Scott

Mar 7, 2018

Flowers are seen outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, last month.
Credit RHONA WISE / AFP/Getty Images

On a 67-50 vote, the Florida House passed the gun safety bill, already approved by the Florida Senate earlier in the week. Governor Rick Scott won’t say whether he will sign the bill, now heading to his desk. He says he’ll weigh input from those who lost loved ones in last month's mass shooting at a South Florida high school.

Ryan Petty is the father of Alaina, a 14-year-old who lost her life in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High school.

As he has in the past couple weeks, he took another trip to Tallahassee to ensure the Florida House passed the gun safety legislation—already passed by the Senate earlier in the week.

At the Florida Cabinet meeting, he told Governor Rick Scott and the other members that he hopes lawmakers do the right thing and pass the gun safety bill.

“This is about keeping our kids safe in their schools,” said Petty. “It’s not about political agendas. So, set them aside, vote to pass this legislation, and let’s protect our kids.”

Rep. Bob Cortes (R-Maitland) says he understands where Petty is coming from.

“Mr. Petty shared with me the pain he feels as a father, to lose a child, and I felt his pain—not only his pain, I actually had a flashback of me looking over my son’s casket as I laid him to rest 28 years ago,. It’s a club that Mr. Petty and I and many of these parents belong to that none of you I pray that you ever belong to.”

The measure makes for strange bedfellows, since Cortes—a Republican—supports the bill. So, does  Rep. Kristin Jacobs (D-Coconut Creek), a Democrat.

“What I have seen is language that a lot of folks here are uncomfortable with, language that many of us will stand up here and support, not support but because we love it, but because we know that it’s the first of many steps,” she said. “I have watched government over many, many years, and the one thing I’ve always seen is when we take incremental steps, we get somewhere. When we take to our corners and we refuse to budge, we don’t get anywhere.”

One of the more contentious issues is the “arming teachers provision.” It’s now called the guardian program, and named after one of the coach’s who shielded Marjory students and died.

It’s a controversial program that could allow designated teachers to carry firearms on school grounds, if they are deputized and complete law enforcement training.

But, there’s a new provision in the bill that excludes those who “exclusively” teach in classrooms, from participating in the voluntary program. But,  Rep. Evan Jenne (R-Dania Beach) says it still allows for the arming of some teachers who perform other duties, like coaches and librarians, and other school personnel.

“And, at the end of the day, some teachers—even though the best attempts were made to take them out—will still have guns,” he said. “To be honest, it reads like the rough first draft of a Steven Seagal movie, that somehow the cafeteria lady is going to spring into action and save everything as if it’s some sort of action film.”

But, Rep. Emily Slosberg (D-Boca Raton) disagrees.

“There’s no way that we can leave here without doing something, and to be clear, this bill does not arm a single teacher,” she said, on the House floor during debate. “It’s a local option. It’s the county option. This bill, it increases security in our schools. It increases funding for mental health.”

Others hoped that the bill would be voted down so, there could be a reset, like Rep. Larry Lee (D-Fort Pierce).

“What’s saying we can’t extend the session, and deal with this,” he asked. “What’s preventing us from stripping that controversial part of out of the bill and say let’s vote this bill up by itself on its own merits. We can do that.”

While Lee wanted to strip out the “arming teachers” provision, Rep. Jay Fant (R-Jacksonville)—also running for Attorney General—wanted to strip out the gun control language. It includes raising the minimum age for any person to buy a firearm from 18 to 21.

“I believe we can reset and get it better, and do it without violating the constitution,” he said. “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 can’t purchase a firearm in the state of Florida. So, I believe it’s unconstitutional on its face.”

But, House bill sponsor Jose Oliva says there are good things contained in what he calls a bipartisan compromise.

“It creates the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission, which will be charged with investigating and identifying the systemic findings that led to this tragedy, and then they will report their findings as well as their recommendations to the Governor and the Legislature, no later than Jan. 2019,” he said.

It also includes a three-day waiting period for gun purchases, a ban on bump stocks, and allows law enforcement to seize weapons from a person deemed mentally ill and will likely pose a threat.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.