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Florida Lawmakers Focusing On Legislation To Prevent School Shootings

Mar 2, 2018
Originally published on March 2, 2018 7:16 pm
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In Florida, lawmakers are working on measures aimed at preventing another school shooting like the one that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. But they've run into significant opposition. From Tallahassee, NPR's Greg Allen reports.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: A week ago, 100 students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were here at the state capitol. They came to ask lawmakers to take action to prevent another mass shooting like the one they'd just gone through. Since then, student activists have been an almost constant presence. A graduate and the school's former student body president, Barrington McFarlane, spent much of last week, he says, going to funerals. Today he was at the Capitol on a day when the legislature had been scheduled to begin debating a school safety bill.

BARRINGTON MCFARLANE: It's sad being up here because right now it feels like no one else around us understands the way the Parkland people understand.

ALLEN: Republican leaders say they were moved by the parents and the students from Parkland. They worked quickly to craft a comprehensive bill to prevent another mass shooting. But the GOP bill has run into problems. Today Florida's Senate president pulled the bill from consideration, saying it needs more work.

Among the problems it faces is opposition from one of Tallahassee's most powerful interest groups, the NRA. The group sent email alerts to its members this week urging them to pressure lawmakers to reject key provisions, including a ban on bump stocks, a three-day waiting period and raising the age to 21 for all gun purchases. Bill Nelson, the Democrat representing Florida in the U.S. Senate, was also in Tallahassee today.

BILL NELSON: The NRA that has struck fear in the hearts of our Republican brothers and sisters because they're going to come after them with a lot of money or put up candidates against them in the next primary - so that's what's going on right now.

ALLEN: Some Republican members of the state House and Senate say they agree with the NRA and oppose the limits on gun sales. Many Democrats, along with some students and parents from Parkland, also oppose the bill but for a different reason. They don't like a provision known as the school marshal plan. That would allow teachers who volunteer and who receive extensive training to carry guns in school. There's also debate over whether such a program should be optional or mandatory. Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon, a member of the legislature's black caucus, is one of the most outspoken opponents.

OSCAR BRAYNON: We're talking about a bill that is going to, in my opinion, put people, children in my community in harm's way. It's been proven. I can point to studies. And that is being put in this bill.

ALLEN: Despite the snags, there's a lot in the legislation that nearly everyone agrees on. The measures make some $400 million available to expand mental health services, to hire more school resource officers and to upgrade security by adding things like metal detectors and bulletproof glass in schools. It would also allow local law enforcement to temporarily seize the guns of people deemed a threat to themselves and others. Bill Galvano, the Republican who's been shepherding the bill through the Senate, says special interests like some parts of the bill and hate others. In his view, that's a sign of a good legislative compromise.

BILL GALVANO: We had a tragedy just a couple of weeks back. What we should be concerned about is not, you know, what group likes what. But can we come together, put a meaningful safety package out there and pass it that's going to save lives? And then the politics of it be damned.

ALLEN: Florida's Senate will take up the bill tomorrow in a rare Saturday session. Final votes in the Senate and House are expected before the session ends next Friday. Greg Allen, NPR News, Tallahassee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.