In response to a deadly Florida school shooting last month, the state’s Senate narrowly passed a bill that would create new restrictions on rifle sales and allow some teachers to carry guns in schools.
The 20-18 vote came after three hours of often emotional debate. Support and opposition crossed party lines, and it was clear many of those who voted for the bill weren’t entirely happy with it.
“Do I think this bill goes far enough? No! No, I don’t!” said Democratic Sen. Lauren Book, who tearfully described visiting Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School after 17 people were fatally shot on Valentine’s Day.
She also would have liked a ban on assault-style rifles, like many of the students who traveled to the state Capitol to ask lawmakers to go even further to stop future mass shootings. But Book said she couldn’t let the legislative session end Friday without doing something.
“My community was rocked. My school children were murdered in their classrooms. I cannot live with a choice to put party politics above an opportunity to get something done that inches us closer to the place I believe we should be as a state,” she said. “This is the first step in saying never again.”
Earlier Monday, families of the 17 Florida high school massacre victims called on the state’s Legislature to pass a bill they believe will improve school security.
Reading a statement outside Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County, Ryan Petty implored legislators to pass Gov. Rick Scott’s proposal to add armed security guards, keep guns away from the mentally ill and improve mental health programs for at-risk teens. Scott also opposes arming teachers.
“We must be the last families to lose loved ones in a mass shooting at a school. This time must be different and we demand action,” said Petty, reading from the group statement.
Petty’s 14-year-old daughter, Alaina, was killed in the Feb. 14 shooting, along with 13 schoolmates and three staff members.
If just one more senator voted no instead of yes Monday evening, the bill would have died. Republicans and
Democrats alike said there were parts of the bill they didn’t like. Democrats didn’t like the idea of letting teachers carry guns, even if the bill was amended to water down that proposed program. And many pro-gun rights Republicans didn’t like the idea of raising the minimum age to buy rifles from 18 to 21 and to create a waiting period on sales of the weapons.
Members of the Black Legislative Caucus has said the gun safety bill has been challenging because of the “arming teachers” provision.
Some talked about what this legislation could do to minority students, such as Rep. Kamia Brown (D-Ocoee).
“While a vast majority of our teachers are wonderful people, there could be situations where guns are used against minority students because a teachers says he or she fears for their life, and the safety of others. In this bill, there is no exception to the already law—Stand Your Ground, included,” she said. “Teachers authorized to carry as part of this marshal program will be able to stand their ground, when they are threatened by ay student, not just an active shooter and avoid civil and criminal liability.”
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