Florida Governor Signs Gun Limits Into Law, Breaking With the N.R.A. – The New York Times
Tuesday, March 13, 2018
Clipped from: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/09/us/florida-governor-gun-limits.html
After School Shooting, Florida Changes Gun Law
Just three weeks after the Parkland school shooting, Gov. Rick Scott has signed into law Florida’s most aggressive gun reform in recent years.
By NEETI UPADHYE and ROBIN LINDSAY on Publish Date March 7, 2018. Photo by Mark Wallheiser/Associated Press. Watch in Times Video »
MIAMI — Florida’s nickname has long been the “Gunshine State” because of its plethora of firearms and loose gun restrictions. Then a troubled teenager stormed into a South Florida high school and shot 17 people dead.
On Friday, in a dramatic turnaround in one of the most gun-friendly states in America, Gov. Rick Scott signed into law an array of gun limits that included raising the minimum age to purchase a firearm to 21 and extending the waiting period to three days. It was the most aggressive action on gun control taken in the state in decades and the first time Mr. Scott, who had an A-plus rating from the National Rifle Association, had broken so significantly from the group.
The sweeping and bipartisan law is named after Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, where a former student, Nikolas Cruz, was charged with launching the massacre on Feb. 14. The law imposes new restrictions on firearm purchases and the possession of “bump stocks,” funds more school police officers and mental health services, broadens law enforcement’s power to seize weapons, and allows certain staff members to carry guns in schools.
Florida’s embrace of gun restrictions came as Congress remains mired in partisan divisions on the issue and as other states, from Illinois to Vermont, consider whether they ought to tighten the rules on gun ownership in the wake of the Parkland attack. Florida’s action gave hope to gun control proponents and sent the N.R.A. scrambling to contain the damage.
Within hours of Mr. Scott signing the legislation, the N.R.A. filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court, arguing that Florida’s age restriction was “a blanket ban” that violated the Second Amendment, as well as the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection.
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The N.R.A. asserted that the law was a particularly egregious violation of the rights of young women, who they contended “pose a relatively slight risk of perpetrating a school shooting such as the one that occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, or, for that matter, a violent crime of any kind.”
Standing with a group of families who had traveled to the State Capitol from Parkland, an emotional Mr. Scott called the classmates of the slain students and their parents his inspiration, and praised them for helping persuade lawmakers to pass legislation, even if neither they nor he agreed with all of its provisions.
“You made your voices heard,” he told the Stoneman Douglas High students. “You helped change your state. You made a difference. You should be proud.”
Outside of Tallahassee, the law might not look that groundbreaking: It does not go as far as laws enacted by other more Democratic-leaning states after deadly shootings. Connecticut expanded a ban on assault weapons, prohibited the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines and imposed stricter background checks on gun purchases after 20 children and six educators were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown in 2012. Colorado required background checks for private gun sales and limited magazines after 12 people were killed at a movie theater in 2012.
But this is Florida, a laboratory for the N.R.A. and a state that has become recognized for its consistent efforts under legislative Republican control since 1996 to expand gun rights. For example, residents only have to comply with a simple protocol to obtain permits to carry concealed weapons. And Florida has embraced “Stand Your Ground” laws that protect the use of deadly force in public.
That such a gun-friendly state adopted any firearm restrictions represents a sea change, even more so as the restrictions were drafted and approved in a matter of three weeks, after a bipartisan vote and the signature of a Republican governor likely to be on the ballot later this year as a Senate candidate.
“If you would have had this conversation with me before session, I would’ve said it’s just not going to happen,” said Senator René García, a moderate Republican from the Miami area who has served 16 years in the Legislature. “Not only did we get this bill passed, but the fact that we had debate on these amendments on the floor was huge. I don’t remember having these debates on the floor ever before.”
The N.R.A. has had to contend with other states also considering action since the Parkland shooting. In Illinois, lawmakers passed a bill last week that would require gun dealers to be licensed by the state, but it was not clear whether the Republican governor would sign it into law. In Vermont, lawmakers advanced legislation that would raise the minimum age to buy a gun to 21 and allow for judges to seize guns from people deemed dangerous.
Elsewhere, legislators took steps toward expanding the legal use of firearms. In Mississippi, state senators approved a bill on Wednesday that would allow trained school employees to carry concealed weapons. And in Missouri, a House committee last week advanced a bill that would allow people with concealed-carry permits to have a weapon in so-called gun-free zones.
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The law’s passage came as a surprise to many in Florida, where lawmakers had failed to enact legislation after the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016, which left 49 dead, and the shooting at the Fort Lauderdale airport that killed five people in 2017. The governor mentioned both crimes on Friday.
Lawmakers like Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith, a Democrat from Orlando, voted against the bill because it did not include a ban on assault weapons or other broad measures sought by survivors of all the shootings.
“The bill doesn’t deal with the real problem at all: The problem is guns,” he said.
On the other side of the debate, lawmakers from the most conservative rural districts and Republicans seeking statewide office in contested primaries opposed the new law, saying it trampled on Second Amendment rights.
“I just can’t imagine that Nikolas Cruz can commit such a heinous crime and then, as a result, we tell potentially a 20-year-old single mother living alone that she cannot purchase a firearm to protect herself,” Representative Jay Fant of Jacksonville, a Republican running for attorney general, said on the House floor.
Mr. Scott can afford to break with the gun lobby now because he is unlikely to face a Republican primary in his expected Senate campaign against Bill Nelson, the Democratic incumbent, in the midterms in November. In signing the bill, Mr. Scott offered a glimpse at how he might use the legislation in the coming campaign to paint Congress as ineffective.
“If you look at the federal government, nothing seems to happen there,” Mr. Scott said, noting he was enacting legislation just three weeks and two days after the rampage. “That’s how government should work.”
Mr. Scott remains opposed to the provision in the law that the N.R.A. has been seeking for years: Allowing for certain teachers and school staff to be armed on campus. But he called the legislation a compromise and noted that the so-called guardian program is voluntary: “If counties do not want to do this, they simply can say no.” The state’s largest and most urban school districts are expected to do just that.
In Tallahassee, the families who joined Mr. Scott chose Tony Montalto, whose daughter, Gina, was killed in the Parkland shooting, to deliver a statement calling the legislation “an important first step to enhance the safety of our schools.”
“When it comes to preventing future acts of horrific school violence, this is the beginning of the journey,” Mr. Montalto said. “We have paid a terrible price for this progress.”
Rebecca Schneid, 16, the editor of The Eagle Eye, the Stoneman Douglas High student newspaper, also applauded the bill, even while admitting it was “not perfect.”
“I never really expected to get something done so fast,” she said. “We’ve been calling them out, and that really scared them. And that’s scaring them into making sure they actually do represent us. They know that if they don’t, we’re going to vote them out.”
“We’re going to keep sending people to Tallahassee,” she went on, “because when we go away, this goes away.”