After Governor Rick Scott signed new gun restrictions into law Friday, in response to last month's massacre that took 17 lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, the legal challenge was not very far behind.
Three weeks of pressure from relatives and friends of the students slain in the in the February 14 massacre provided momentum for the legislation. Scott said the bill balances individual rights with need for public safety, and conceded that it’s not perfect, and may not satisfy everyone. But he added it will make a difference.
“Will this bill provide more funding to treat the mentally ill?” asked Scott. “Will this bill give far more tools to keep guns away from people who should not have them? The answer is ‘yes.’ And that is why I’m signing the legislation today.”
SB 7026 also:
- Extends a three-day waiting period for handgun purchases to include long guns;
- Bans bump stocks which allow guns to mimic fully automatic fire and,
- Raises the minimum age to buy rifles from 18 to 21,
Just hours after the signing, the National Rifle Association went to federal court to block the new law, focusing on the hike in the minimum age. The NRA contends it’s unfair to law abiding 18-to-20-year-olds.
Appearing on Fox News, Cong. Ron DeSantis, who’s running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, predicts the lawsuit will succeed.
“There’s really no precedent to do just a blanket on certain adults,” DeSantis said. “We wouldn’t say that if you’re 18 to 20 you don’t have a fourth Amendment right and police could search your house without a warrant. We wouldn’t say that they could seize your property without just compensation; and [that] the fifth Amendment [guarding against self-incrimination] doesn’t apply.”
SB 7026 also creates a "guardian" program to arm some teachers and other school personnel who would undergo special training and be state-certified. Gov. Rick Scott, who’s expected to run for the U.S. Senate, has come out against that.
“There are things in the bill that I oppose; I’ve been pretty open about that. I still think law enforcement officers should be the ones to protect our schools,” Scott said. “I’ve heard all the arguments for teachers to be armed, and while this bill was significantly changed on this topic I’m still not persuaded. I’m glad, however, that the plan in this bill is not mandatory.”
Echoing the Governor’s stance on arming teachers is Escambia County School Superintendent Malcolm Thomas.
“If someone wants to be the armed security guard for a campus, then that needs to be their focus and that needs to be their job,” said Thomas.
There are many provisions in the new law that Thomas applauds, saying they hit on most of the elements in Governor Scott’s original proposal. There’s also money available to deal with mental health issues, which Thomas calls a “common thread.”
“[In] most of these safety violations, it’s a deranged individual with a weapon,” Thomas said. “So being able to identify, treat, and have capacity to refer those individuals for appropriate help, we’re going to get resources that school districts have never received.”
The Escambia County District could get around a million dollars for school hardening, which already has been underway for about five years. Thomas declined to give specifics, but says while they’ve made progress in securing the perimeters, there remains much work to be done.
“We work hard to make sure that every school has a single point of entry; you’ve got to be scanned in if it’s a driver license,” said Thomas. “We check you to make sure you’re appropriately on campus. Fencing becomes a component of that exterior perimeter. Door locks. There’s a lot to try to secure.”
But the bill falls short in the eyes of many. Student activists from the school where the shooting took place call it "a baby step,” after a provision to ban assault-style rifles was removed.