TALLAHASSEE — Flanked by grieving parents Friday afternoon, Gov. Rick Scott signed an unprecedented $400 million school safety and gun bill into law, saying it should prevent another massacre like the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting on Valentine’s Day.
“Unfortunately this wasn’t the first time our state has been rocked like this,” Scott said, referring to the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre of 49 and the 2017 Fort Lauderdale airport shooting that left five dead.
“Today should serve as an example to the entire country that government can and must move fast," he added.
The parents of the victims issued a statement, read by one of the fathers, Tony Montalto, who praised Scott and the Legislature for their quick action.
“The state of Florida has now taken an important first step to enhance the safety of our schools,” Montalto said. “When it comes to preventing future acts of horrific school violence, this is the beginning of the journey. We have paid a terrible price for this progress. We call on more states to follow Florida’s lead and create meaningful legislation to make all schools safer.”
“This time,” he said as he raised his voice, “must be different!”
Though no one has opposed the heart of the bill — schools and mental health money — the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, or FL SB7026 (18R), was controversial in the GOP-led Florida Legislature, which has never passed gun control measures. Amid NRA lobbying, the legislation passed the Florida Senate by just one vote.
Many Republicans couldn’t stomach the provisions that regulate long guns like handguns by requiring a three-day wait for buying rifles and shotguns, the purchase of which is generally limited to those who are 21 and older. The accused Stoneman Douglas shooter, Nikolas Cruz, was 19 years old. He was indicted this week on 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted murder.
For Democrats, who wanted an assault weapons ban, the plan had too little gun control and most opposed arming school personnel in schools. The provision was watered down so that it is voluntary and doesn’t apply to front-line, full-time classroom teachers. Most large urban counties have announced or are expected to announce they won’t participate.
Some of the most significant gun control — allowing police to seize weapons from people adjudicated “mentally defective,” spouse-beaters, stalkers or those otherwise deemed to be a harm to themselves or others — was barely mentioned during days of debate. The legislation also bans so-called bump stocks that allow a semiautomatic rifle to fire more like a machine gun.