Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a broad bill intended to step up safety in schools and curtail gun violence on Friday.
The legislation marks a major break from Republican tradition. Scott, himself a member of the GOP, rattled the National Rifle Association by raising the minimum age to purchase firearms from 18 to 21, along with other changes meant to balance “our individual rights with need for public safety.”
“It’s an example to the entire country that government can and has moved fast,” said Scott.
The bill, writes The Chicago Tribune, is in line with changes the young survivors of last month’s Parkland, FL, shooting hope to see pushed through Congress. On top of raising the purchasing age from 18 to 21, the legislation extends a three-day waiting period to purchase handguns to rifles and places an outright ban on bump stocks – a firearm accessory which allows semi-automatic weapons to mimic automatic fire.
Perhaps more controversially, the bill authorizes the creation of a ‘guardian’ program, enabling some teachers and school employees to undergo law enforcement training and carry firearms during work hours.
Scott said he’s “not persuaded” about the ‘guardian’ program and stressed that its adoption isn’t mandatory for any district in the state.
“If counties don’t want to do this, they can simply say no,” he said.
Legal experts interviewed by The New York Times expressed some concern over the program, citing the possibility of increased liability for educators in the case of firearm mishaps and misfires. The paper gives the example of a police shooting in Miami Beach. When officers fired ‘more than 100 bullets’ to subdue an attack in 2011, ‘several bystanders were severely wounded.’ Lawsuits were filed almost immediately, forcing the local police department to settle after two years of litigation.
“Unless you give librarians the same training as police officers, you’re subjecting them to immense liability,” said attorney Robert Switkes, who defended several law enforcement officers involved in the Miami Beach incident.
The NRA’s response to the bill was overwhelmingly negative. One lobbyist called the recently-passed law “a display of bullying and coercion,” claiming it violates the Second Amendment and “punishes law-abiding citizens.”
Student activists from Parkland, meanwhile, called the legislation ‘a baby-step’ in the right direction.
“Obviously, this is what we’ve been fighting for,” said Chris Grady, senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. “It’s a baby step but a huge step at the same time. Florida hasn’t passed any legislation like this in God knows how long.”
Gov. Scott credited Grady and his classmates with enabling the law and firearms reform, saying, “You helped change our state. You made a difference. You should be proud.”
The bill, according to The Chicago Tribune, passed the Florida House and Senate by a narrow margin.
On Friday, attorneys for suspected Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz suggested the 19-year old accused of murdering 17 of his classmates may plead guilty if prosecutors don’t pursue the death penalty.