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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

To Crowd's Frustration, Gun Safety Bills Pass First Sen. Panel Without Assault Weapons Ban

Sascha Cordner

Some gun safety proposals passed their first Florida Senate committee without an assault weapons ban. While top GOP lawmakers are calling the effort bipartisan, some Democrats pushing for more gun reforms disagree.

Hundreds of people crowded inside and outside a Senate committee room Monday for the first hearing of the gun safety bills in the Senate Rules committee.

Katherine Guerra and Bela Urbina were two fo the people who spoke. They're students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 people were killed and more than a dozen injured.

“The only argument that most people are saying it’s for sport or for hunting or for self-defense. An AR-15 is not meant for self-defense. You would not use it for personal, something that has high velocity with rapid fire, to defend yourself or for sport.”

“The assault rifles are meant for killing things in a rapid amount of time. So, when you go hunting, it’s not like it’s not like there’s going to be 15 deer lined up in a line, and you’re going to go buh-buh-buh-buh, and kill all those deer.”

Both students wanted an assault weapons ban, which is not included in the gun safety bills.

What is included is increasing the minimum age for a person to purchase and own a firearm to 21, banning the sale of bump stocks, and providing time for background checks.

Law enforcement may also seize weapons from someone who is deemed mentally ill, involuntary committed to an institution under the Baker Act, and is deemed a threat. A person who is mentally ill would also be prohibited from possessing or purchasing a gun.

Another is a public records exemption to protect the personal information of victims and their families.

And, Sen. Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton) says there are provisions promoting school safety.

“That would be accomplished by codifying and enhancing the activities of the multi-agency network for students with emotional and behavioral disabilities (SEDNET), require each school district to designate a school safety specialist, and each school to establish a threat assessment team to provide a coordinated approach to evaluating and responding to students who pose a threat,” he said.

There’s also a “school marshal” program, allowing for certain designated people who have completed law enforcement officer training to have a gun on school grounds. That NRA-backed provision could include teachers.

“Now, as far as putting guns in a classroom with a teacher, I think that no matter how you dress it up—whether you say I’m going to say I’m going to take a police officer and turn them into a teacher or take a teacher and turn them into a police officer or you say I’m going to train them, I think you are still missing the fundamental point, which is putting more weapons into our school doesn’t make anyone safer,” said Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon.

He spoke during at a press conference Monday with other Democratic lawmakers from both the House and Senate. Braynon thinks the legislation goes too far.

“What we are doing with that proposal is we have gone from not doing enough to actually doing harm, and that I think is a real problem,” he added. “It’s one thing for me to stand here and say this bill doesn’t’ go far enough. These things that are done are good, but you could do more. It’s another things when you we start saying that we’re doing something that in my opinion will put my children, our children, in harm’s way.”

Three Senate Democrats tried and failed to tack on amendments to the bill, which includes getting rid of the marshal program and an assault weapons ban. One amendment by Sen. Braynon did unanimously pass. It creates a Medical Reimbursement Program for Victims of Mass Shootings.

Meanwhile, over on the House side, top leaders say they’re also working with Democrats on the issue, like Rep. Katie Edwards-Walpole (D-Plantation) and Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-Coral Springs).

Moskowitz says in speaking with the Parkland shooting survivors, his goal is to try and get something out now in the last couple weeks, and try to do more in future legislative sessions.

“Everybody has their role,” he said, speaking to reporters last week. “So, there are Democrats out there that are helping push, that are bringing kids up here, that are organizing rallies…they’re helping push the issue. I look at my role as to get something done.”

The House version of the bill was filed Monday, and is scheduled to be taken up in the Appropriations committee Tuesday morning.

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.