Two Months After Approval, Florida's New Gun Reform Law Still Faces Scrutiny From All Sides

May 11, 2018

During the March 24th Rally at the Florida Capitol, someone holds a sign, saying 'This teacher will not carry a gun.'
Credit WFSU News

Two months after it passed the state legislature, Florida’s latest gun reform law is still under scrutiny from gun control and pro-gun advocates alike.

With the okay of a local school district and law enforcement, the new gun reform law allows for the arming of some teachers and other school personnel through a voluntary guardian program. Classroom teachers who don’t have any other duties, like coaching, would be excluded.

School districts across the state are grappling with whether they want to join such a program, especially since lawmakers specifically devoted millions of dollars in the budget to those efforts.

“The plans that have been approved about how individuals could be a part of this program…someone like George Zimmerman could get a job,” said Rep. Shevrin Jones (D-West Park), referring to the neighborhood watch volunteer acquitted of fatally shooting Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, in 2012.

During the past legislative session, Jones spoke out against that particular provision in the law also known as the “Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act.”

It’s named after the mass school shooting which left 17 people dead and 17 others injured in February.

Jones says he still, as did then, has a lot of concerns as a member of the black legislative caucus.

“The fact that students of colors are profiled more, period, brings an uneasiness to me when we’re talking about arming our teachers and recognizing that Broward and Dade Counties have not adopted this measure,” he added, during a conference call Thursday. “But, if you look at other counties that have large populations of kids who look like students of my community, I think it’s very careless.”

Jones calls it reckless that such a provision, supported by the National Rifle Association, was put in the new law that he believes also has good parts.

Meanwhile, as for the NRA’s Marion Hammer, she too has mixed feelings about the law.

Speaking recently during NPR’s All Thing Considered, she touted how lawmakers provided funding to address mental health and the hardening of Florida’s schools.

“And all of that would've been beneficial. But they threw in what I call political eyewash,” Hammer said, at the time. “Nothing in the way of gun control in that piece of legislation would've had any impact whatever on the Parkland shooting or the Pulse nightclub. The bill requires a three-day waiting period. The Parkland shooter went through a five-day waiting period.”

In addition to the waiting period, the new law includes raising the minimum age for gun purchasers from 18 to 21 and a ban on bump stocks—an add-on that can allow a semi-automatic weapon to fire like an automatic weapon with a single pull of the trigger.

There’s already a lawsuit filed against both of those provisions. Hammer’s group particularly doesn’t like the age limit and brought a federal legal challenge. The NRA also tried to make a 19-year-old woman who wants to join the lawsuit anonymous.

Hammer—who says she’s received threatening e-mails—fears the woman will be harassed as well. The state wants that motion dismissed.

Meanwhile, as to the lawsuit as a whole, Republicans in House and Senate leadership appear confident in the constitutional muster of the new law.

“I say it all the time,” said Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, speaking to reporters in March, after the end of the legislative session. “I think I’ve been sued more times than any other presiding officer, and I don’t think we’ve lost a case. I don’t think we’ll lose the case. I think what we did was constitutional, it was extremely impactful and it will go down—in five to ten years people will talk completely differently about the bill we passed, including the NRA.”

Still, Corcoran did side with the NRA when it came to adding some controversial provisions to the state constitution that came before Florida Constitution Revision Commission.

The CRC is a panel that meets every 20 years to revise the state’s constitution, and put the matter before voters on the 2018 ballot.

Weeks after the bill became law, Corcoran sent a letter to the CRC, saying he’s against adding an assault weapons ban and an extended waiting period to the state constitution.

And, those issues will not be appearing on the November ballot.

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