Following last week’s mass school shooting, about 100 Parkland students are expected to come to Tallahassee this week to speak to Florida lawmakers about gun control. It comes just as an NRA-backed bill was withdrawn from consideration. But, some may see the student’s gun control views as a bit “naive.”
On Tuesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee’s agenda is a bill that would allow school principals and superintendents to designate certain people have firearms on school property. That could include veterans, law enforcement, or volunteers with a concealed weapons permit.
“Our bill is actually very surgical,” said Sen. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala). “It is not mandatory. It’s an option on the table for superintendents, school boards, and principals. It would only be for people who are screened, people who are trained—many of them are combat veterans who came back and making a career in education, and many of them are responsible for the security and safety of these students, and yet they’re powerless to act.”
Baxley says his goal is very simple: he want to focus on the first five minutes of a shooting. In the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the massacre that left 17 people dead and more than a dozen injured took three to six minutes.
“What happened is with our gun-free zone policy—which was well-intentioned—is we created a sterile target for this type of behavior,” he added. “They may be crazy, but they’re not stupid, and they realize there’s no one there with armed resistance that can deal with them. And, so, what happens in that first five minutes can make a difference of whether we have an incident or whether it turns into a massacre. During that time, law enforcement is trying to get there, set up perimeter, find out if they’re looking at apprehension, they’re looking at restoring order, and rescuing injured people. So, most of that activity has occurred in that early period.”
Opponents during the bill’s first committee hearing in the House raised questions about how well-trained the designated person would be in an active shooter scenario and if mental health screenings would take place.
But, that debate won’t be in the Senate anytime soon, since Baxley says he’s now withdrawing his bill from consideration.
“The chairman of the Judiciary Committee [Sen. Greg Steube (R-Sarasota)] and I have concurred and agreed that the best thing for us is to pull it off of the agenda at this point,” he added. “We’re not ready for this discussion. We want to fully investigate every option that we have to deal with school safety.”
100 Parkland students are expected to arrive in Tallahassee Tuesday, and speak to lawmakers Wednesday about the need for gun control legislation. They likely would have opposed Baxley’s bill—backed by the NRA.
Baxley says he’s willing to meet with any of these students.
“Always...I think it is part of working through our grief, and this is particularly intense,” he stated. “But, I also think it’s naive of them to think that we’re going to solve this problem by eliminating one weapon or constraining weapons. They’ll just choose other instruments. That’s the history of this.”
But, Sen. Lauren Book (D-Plantation) disagrees with Baxley’s assessment. She helped coordinate the efforts to bring the students to Tallahassee.
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and I think that these children have seen things that none of us will ever have to endure,” Book said. “And, I walked around that school. I looked in the windows of those classrooms, and I don’t think it’s naïve to think that if these children are calling for what they’re calling for, that that’s going to stop all of these problems. They have been through things that we’ll never have to experience.”
As for the trip to Tallahassee, Book says she spoke to 11th grade class President Jaclyn Corin about making that happen.
“And, I started talking with her about what she needed to heal and what she felt was important to do,” she added. “And, she told me she wanted to come to Tallahassee with 100 of her friends who also have seen things that none of us can even imagine, and wanted to work about bringing about change and share their stories in Tallahassee. And, so, me and my team began working to make that happen for these kids.”
When the students arrive Tuesday night, they’re expected to sleep at the Civic Center in Tallahassee. Book says she’ll be joining them. Then, in the morning, they already have meetings scheduled with Attorney General Pam Bondi, the Senate President, and House Speaker as well as lawmakers from both sides of the aisle. Book says there’s a lot to talk about so they can prevent what happened at Douglass High school.
“Does that include an assault weapons ban? Yes,” she continued. “Does that include mental health services and mental health funding? Yes! Does that include background checks, when we’re not working on an all-out ban? Yes! When I sat across on a hospital bed from a young man whose foot was shot and very badly injured, all he could ask for was to raise the age of which a person could purchase an assault weapon. These are things we have to listen to.”
So far, Senate President designate Bill Galvano says he is preparing a comprehensive package of legislation that includes new age restrictions for gun purchases and a ban on bump stocks—which can allow a semi-automatic weapon to fire like an automatic weapon with the pull of a single trigger.
For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.