A week after one of the deadliest mass shootings in modern US history, Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced a comprehensive plan to keep students safe in his state, including suggestions to raise the minimum age to buy a gun, keep weapons out of the hands of the mentally ill and ban the sale of bump stocks.
A former student fatally shot 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on February 14, sparking renewed and heated debate over the middle point between Second Amendment rights and student safety.
“We must take care of our kids,” Scott, a Republican, said at a news conference announcing his three-part plan.
Kai Koerber, a student at Stoneman Douglas who was there the day of the shooting, called the plan “a step in the right direction.”
“This is not the end of the line, but we thank Governor Scott for hearing our concerns, and taking steps to secure a better future for the sons and daughters of tomorrow,” he said.
The governor also called for tougher background checks and waiting periods to buy firearms; requiring mentally ill people who have been involuntarily committed to temporarily surrender weapons; and the allocation of hundreds of millions of dollars toward improving security in schools and mental health services.
“Keeping guns away from dangerous people and people with mental issues is what we need to do,” he said.
“No one with mental issues should have access to guns. It’s common sense, and it is in their own best interest — not to mention the interests of our communities. And much of what I’m proposing involves giving law enforcement the ability to stop people from harming themselves and others, while giving them the tools to keep our schools safe.”
Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, a Democrat who was re-elected in 2016, was pleased with the news.
“Thank you Gov. Scott and state legislative leaders for proposing a gun and school safety package that incorporates nearly all the ideas (Broward Sheriff’s Office) and other sheriffs suggested. This is a strong first step in giving us the proactive ability to keep Florida safer,” his office tweeted from its verified account. The targeted high school is in Broward County.
Scott, who noted that he is a member of the National Rife Association, said he’s not calling for a ban on all firearms.
“I know there are some who are advocating a mass takeaway of Second Amendment rights for all Americans. That is not the answer.”
In response to questions about calls for a ban on AR-15-style rifles and other semiautomatic guns, the governor said that “banning specific weapons and punishing law abiding citizens is not going to fix this. What we have to do is we have to really focus on the problem. We’ve got to take all weapons away from people with mental illness, people who are threatening themselves or threatening others.”
Part 1: Keep guns away from dangerous people
Scott said the plan will address strengthening gun laws to keep “guns away from dangerous and violent people.”
— Part of that includes creating a “Violent Threat Restraining Order,” which permits a court “to prohibit a violent or mentally ill person from purchasing or possessing a firearm when either a family member, community welfare expert or law enforcement officer” presents evidence to the court of a threat of firearms violence.
— It calls for strengthening “gun purchase and possession restrictions for mentally ill individuals under the Baker Act. If a court involuntarily commits someone for treatment under the Baker Act because they are at risk of harming themselves or others, an individual would be required to surrender all firearms and not regain their right to purchase or possess a firearm until a court hearing.”
— People who “are subject to an injunction for protection against stalking, cyberstalking, dating violence, repeat violence, sexual violence, or domestic violence” would be prohibited from possessing or buying a firearm.
— Enhanced criminal penalties should be created for threats to schools, including “social media threats of shootings or bombings.” It also calls for enhanching “penalties if any person possesses or purchases a gun after they have been deemed by state law to not have access to a gun.”
— Exceptions on the age for firearms purchasing include active duty and reserve military and spouses, National Guard members, and law enforcement.
Scott said he disagrees with the notion of arming educators, saying teachers should teach and police should police.
“My focus is on bringing in law enforcement. I think you need to have individuals that are trained, well-trained. My focus is let law enforcement do the keeping us safe and let teachers focus on teaching.”
Part 2: Keeping students safe
Scott proposed a $450 million initiative for student safety, calling for the presence of a resource officer in every public school and giving sheriffs’ departments the power “to train additional school personnel or reserve law enforcement officers” if local school boards ask.
The plan requires “mandatory active shooter training” and says faculty and students must be involved in “active shooter drills.” It calls for an increase in funding for safe school infrastructure, such as metal detectors, steel doors and upgraded locks.
Scott called for an anonymous K-12 “See Something, Say Something” hotline, website and mobile app, funding “to require access to dedicated mental health counselors to provide direct counseling services,” the creation of “threat assessment” teams at each school, and “crisis intervention training for all school personnel.”
Part 3: Expand mental health initiatives
The plan outlines a $50 million allocation for mental health initiatives, including the expansion of mental health service teams, a Department of Children and Families case manager embedded in every sheriff’s department, and matching grants for sheriff’s offices to set up special law enforcement teams to work with DCF case managers.
“There is nothing more important than the safety of our children. Our kids deserve nothing less. Fortunately, our economy is booming, and we have the resources to protect our schools and our students. And, if providing this funding means we won’t be able to cut taxes this year — so be it. And, if we have to give up some of the projects we all hold near and dear — so be it,” the governor said.
Stoneman Douglas students speak up
Koerber wasn’t pleased with the proposal to give sheriffs’ departments the authority to train “additional school personnel” if local school boards request it:
“Gov. Scott’s Action Plan proposes the arming of teachers, if that is the wish of the district. In no way do I, or any of my friends, feel that the arming of teachers is a solution to the issue of gun violence in schools.
“Nonetheless, we are very happy to see the implementation of a gold standard age for the purchase of firearms, as well as the placement of more law enforcement officers based on the population of a school campus.”
Kyle Kashuv said he is “a bit concerned over the infringement of Second Amendment rights,” a reference to the requirement that people be 21 or over to buy firearms.
“When you are 18 you are legally tried as an adult yet you are not considered mentally fit for a weapon.”
But he favors other aspects on the plan, including the waiting period for background checks, extra school resource officers, mental health funding, the hotline and school building improvements.
“I think mental health and background checks are necessary,” he said, adding that he also understands why the bump stock ban is necessary.
By Joe Sterling, CNN