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Thousands of people support students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in a rally for gun control at the Florida capitol (2/21/18).The Florida legislature is poised to pass some of the most sweeping gun control and mental health reforms in more than 20 years. The moves come as lawmakers face pressure from students affected by the Valentine's Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.On Valentine's Day, a 19-year-old in Parkland opened fire on his former classmates at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He killed 14 students, three adults, and injured 14 others. There were warning signs, yet, all, including a tip to the FBI, were missed.That day, school safety measures in place, like school resource officers, restricted access and fencing--all failed.In the wake of the shooting, students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas have mobilized, calling on the legislature to take greater action to prevent school and mass shootings. Lawmakers, it seems, are finally listening.https://youtu.be/6PRPEfu7WPg

State, National Leaders Talk Legislative Goals In Wake Of Mass School Shooting

Gov. Rick Scott, Broward Superintendent Rob Runcie and Broward Sheriff Scott Israel discuss Parkland school shooting.
PBS NewsHour screenshot

In the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting that left 17 people dead, politicians on the state and national level are weighing in on what can be done legislatively.

As information continues to come in on the mass shooter, one area of agreement for people on both sides is he apparently had mental health issues. And, it’s one of the reasons Republican politicians want to focus talks on the mental health aspect.

In the coming week, Governor Rick Scott is expected to hold talks with state and local leaders to discuss ways he says will keep Florida students safe.

“All of our schools have to be safe. It’s as simple as that. How do we do that? It’s going to be funding for security, mental illness, for counselors, things like that. But, on top of that, we’ve got to say to ourselves if we have someone who’s mentally ill, they can’t have access to a gun. But, look I’m open to have conversations about things because I don’t want my children, your children, my grandchildren, or your grandchildren to ever go through something like this. I don’t want a parent to have to say, ‘oh, I have t teach you now, when you start Kindergarten that you’ve got to learn how to be careful about a shooter.’ That’s not the society we all want to live in.”

The House and Senate legislative leaders have already pledged to put more funding into mental health.

Senate President Designate Bill Galvano says he’s gotten the support of his colleagues to put 100-million dollars in the budget for mental health screening, counseling, and training.

And, Senate President Joe Negron says they’re also working to beef up schools’ security and make them safer.

“And, then with regard to our commitment to make sure that our schools are as safe that they possibly could be, the total funding I think was about $75 million, and the Senate actually I think in our budget had a $13 million increase over last year’s funding,” he said. “The Governor had a similar increase. And, I think that’s something you’ll see the legislature come together in a renewed way as we move forward on final parts of our budget.”

“Let's have a conversation about this right now, not just about mental illness and that's part of it, not just about protection at our schools and that's part of it,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). Let's get to the root cause.”

Speaking on the Senate floor Thursday, Nelson said everyone should really be talking about gun control and beefing up background checks. He added at least on the national level, Congressional leaders need to act before any more horrific events happen.

“Sandy Hook elementary, 20 students killed…the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, 49 people killed…That wasn't enough….Las Vegas, 58 people killed, that wasn't enough,” he asked. “Or Fort Lauderdale airport, five people killed. That wasn't enough. Now this high school, 17 killed, some as young as 14 years old. So when is enough going to be enough?”

But, many Republican politicians disagree. That includes Florida’s House Speaker Designate Jose Oliva.

“It’s a debate that’s always going to happen when something like this happens,” he said. “You know, you don’t take cars off the road because someone got drunk, used one, and killed someone. You don’t take cars off the road because someone rented a U-Haul and ran it into some people in New York City. You know, I know it’s the natural reaction to come back to this. But, does this not happen in places with very strong gun laws? I think it does.”

He says the focus should be more on the mental health aspect.

“The real question is, rather than just jump to the idea of ‘this would not have happened, but for’  – first find out why it happened…secondly how the person got a gun…and third, show legitimate proof that there’s somewhere in this country that has extremely strict gun laws where these things are avoided,” Oliva added. “It’s a mental illness problem and we have to continue as a society to put focus on prevention—not by eliminating guns, because you can’t eliminate renting U-Haul trucks—what you have to figure out is: what is the underlying problem? Obviously, it’s a condition of mental illness.”

But, overall, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel says he’d like lawmakers everywhere to do one thing.

“What I’m asking our lawmakers to do is to go back to Tallahassee and Washington D.C. and give police the power if they see something on social media, if they see graphic pictures of rifles, blood, gore, guns, and bombs, horrific language, if they something a person talking about, ‘I want to grow up to be serial killer,’ we need to have the power to take to take that person and bring them before mental health professionals involuntarily and have them examined,” he said, during a Thursday press conference.

Meanwhile, with just weeks left of session, gun control advocates, like Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, are not happy a number of their priority bills have not come up for a vote. It includes legislation they say would help keep guns away from felons, domestic abusers and people with dangerous mental illnesses as well as one that beefs up background checks at gun shows. 

One pro-gun measure was scheduled to come up for a vote in the Senate Thursday giving gun conceal weapons licenses to people whose background checks were not processed in time by officials. But, in the wake of Wednesday’s mass school shooting, Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Adam Putnam says he’s working with the bill’s House and Senate sponsors to postpone the measure—originally one of his priorities—from further consideration this session.

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

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.