Florida governor won’t say whether he will sign gun bill
Tallahassee, F.L. – Three weeks after the Parkland high school shooting, Florida Gov. Rick Scott has a gun-control bill on his desk that challenges the National Rifle Association but falls short of what the Republican and survivors of the massacre demanded.
Now he must decide whether to sign it. Scott has not said what he will do, and he plans to take up the issue Friday with relatives of 17 people slain in the Feb. 14 attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“I’m going to take the time and I’m going to read the bill and I’m going to talk to families,” he said.
State lawmakers formally delivered the reform package Thursday. The governor has 15 days to sign it, veto it or let it become law without his signature.
The measure would raise the minimum age to buy rifles from 18 to 21 and extend a three-day waiting period for handgun purchases to include long guns. It also would create a so-called guardian program enabling school employees and many teachers to carry handguns if they go through law enforcement training and their school districts agree to participate.
Other provisions would create new mental health programs for schools and establish an anonymous tip line where students and others could report threats to schools. The bill would also ban bump stocks that allow guns to mimic fully automatic fire and seek to improve communication between schools, law enforcement and state agencies.
In other developments Thursday, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office released 12 minutes of radio transmissions from its deputies and a neighboring police agency that highlighted the chaos the day of the attack. That material also included 10 of the 81 recordings of frantic calls by students and parents to a 911 center.
The excerpts showed a deputy on school grounds first thought the loud bangs were firecrackers but quickly realized they were gunshots — yet he never ran toward them. Other responding deputies and officers desperately tried to sort through a chaotic scene, treat the injured, lock down the school and locate the shooter.
In the shooting aftermath, Florida’s governor broke with the NRA. Scott had received top marks from the lobbying group in the past for supporting gun-rights measures and his new stance reinvigorated the gun-control movement.
The governor, who is expected to seek a U.S. Senate seat later this year, has called for raising the minimum age to purchase any type of gun, but he does not support arming teachers. Instead, he wanted lawmakers to adopt his own $500 million proposal to put at least one law enforcement officer in every school.
The NRA opposes raising age limits to buy weapons or imposing new waiting periods. In a statement Thursday, NRA and Unified Sportsmen of Florida lobbyist Marion Hammer called the bill “a display of bullying and coercion” that would violate Second Amendment rights and punish law-abiding citizens.
President Donald Trump congratulated Florida on the legislation, saying state lawmakers “passed a lot of very good legislation last night.”
During a Cabinet meeting Thursday, Trump said the White House was working on a plan to ban bump stocks and that efforts to enhance background checks were “moving along well” in Congress.
The Florida bill’s narrow passage reflected a mix of Republicans and Democrats in support and opposition. Survivors were split as well.
Andrew Pollack, whose daughter was among those killed, said more needed to be done, but there was enough good in the bill that it should pass.
“My precious daughter Meadow’s life was taken, and there’s nothing I can do to change that. But make no mistake: I’m a father, and I’m on a mission. I’m on a mission to make sure I’m the last dad to ever read a statement of this kind.”
The Tampa Bay Times reported that officials in the state’s largest school districts, including Miami-Dade and Broward counties, have balked at the idea of arming employees and instead called for funding to support putting more police officers in schools.
Florida’s teachers union asked Scott to veto $67 million set aside for the guardian program. Under Florida law, Scott can sign the bill but use his line-item veto power to eliminate the funding.
“If guns are the appropriate answer, then we owe it to our children to provide appropriate numbers of professional, trained law enforcement personnel … whose work assignment is to protect students and staff,” Florida Education Association President Joanne McCall said in a statement.
Teachers in some states, including Texas, can carry concealed weapons if they have required training. At least eight states allow, or do not specifically prohibit, concealed weapons in K-12 schools, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Meanwhile, one student injured in the shooting was transferred to intensive care after his condition worsened. A hospital spokeswoman said 15-year-old Anthony Borges’ condition became critical overnight.
A family attorney did not immediately respond to a request for information. The student has filed notice that he will sue Florida authorities to seek money to cover the cost of his recovery.
The suspect in the attack, Nikolas Cruz, a 19-year-old former Stoneman Douglas student, faces 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted murder for the massacre.
Cruz’s public defender has said he will plead guilty if prosecutors take the death penalty off the table and sentence him to life in prison instead. Prosecutors have not announced a decision.
An attorney for the family that took in Cruz after his mother died said the gunman exchanged text messages with their son moments before opening fire.
Cruz asked the son of James and Kimberly Snead which classroom he was in and who his teacher was. The son was not wounded, lawyer Jim Lewis said Thursday.
Associated Press writers Jennifer Kay and Adriana Gomez Licon in Miami contributed to this report.