Florida Senate leaders promise package of gun laws

Cropped Photo: Cory Doctorow / CC BY-SA 2.0

Top Florida Senate Republicans on Monday began assembling a package of gun control reforms prompted by the Parkland shooting, bucking their party's historical resistance to stricter gun regulations.

The package began taking shape following a tour of the shooting site at Stoneman Douglas High School by legislative leaders, including the incoming Senate president, Sen. Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton).

Sen. Galvano is promising legislation that imposes new age restrictions on gun purchases, a ban on bump stocks and gun violence restraining orders.

One proposal would raise the legal age for posession of a rifle like the AR-15 to 21 (it's currently 18) in Florida.

There's also talk about a possible three-day waiting period for all gun purchases, and to revise the background screening program to close loopholes.

Another proposal would revise the Baker Act so that law enforcement can take a person's guns until they are no longer a threat. Law enforcement could also take a person into custody based on threatening texts and violent ramblings.

Another proposal would allow a family member or guardian to ask a judge to take a person's firearm if they believe the person poses a threat -- called a gun violence restraining order. The bill will be similar to bills HB 231 and SB 530, proposed by two Democrats, which never got hearings in Republican-controlled committees.

Galvano is also proposing more money, $100 million for training, screening and counseling in schools for mental health issues. More money would also be advocated for more school resource officers at 4,000 schools.

He also wants the legislature to consider a proposal by several county sheriffs, including Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd and Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood, to allow school staff to get training and become deputized by law enforcement officials so that they can carry concealed weapons on school campuses.

The delegation also included Sen. Gary Farmer (D-Lighthouse Point), who said the remnants of last week's carnage were particularly impactful.

"To see blood spatters on the wall, to see the puddle of blood where a SWAT officer tried to pull out one of the victims... to see just the total loss of innocence for these kids, not just the 17 who were killed and the other 14 who are injured, but every child in that school lost their innocence on that day, and to see the scene just conjures up in your head what those kids must have been thinking as this was going down," Farmer said in an interview.
Shift in sentiment

If the visit is spurring action, Farmer argues it's still not meaningful enough. Nothing short of consideration of a long-stalled Democratic proposal to ban sales of assault weapons -- including the AR-15 used in Wednesday's shooting -- will be enough to satisfy reformers, he said.

The likelihood of that happening in the final three weeks of the state's legislative session remains slim. While raising the gun purchasing age and allowing the restraining orders would be far from popular with the gun rights lobby, banning assault weapon sales is seen by most Capitol veterans as a non-starter.

Still, the shift in sentiment among many Republicans over the course of just five days has been relatively dramatic. The evolution began in earnest the day after the shooting, when Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio suggested his openness to reforming federal gun laws.

"If there is something to be done with our laws, we should do that, too," Rubio said on the Senate floor.

It's unknown how much the Florida House and Gov. Scott are willing to do.

Republicans make up the majority of the Florida House and Senate. Last week, Republican leaders all but rejected calls from Democrats to tighten gun laws. Democrats have several gun safety bills on the table that had not gotten hearings. We posted a list of all 2018 gun bills HERE.

And with a state Capitol rally featuring the survivors of the Stoneman Douglas shooting planned for the one-week anniversary of the massacre, Republicans will face even more pressure to reconsider their gun policy positions.

"A lot of these issues we talk about, they're really just abstract issues, and until something like this happens that just tears apart a community, that gets you to really examine what your thoughts and your beliefs were before, and maybe you just didn't know or understand the nuance or the details of the issue," Farmer said.

This weekend former Gov. Jeb Bush joined the call on social media.

Published reports also said a top Florida donor for the Republicans, real estate developer Al Hoffman Jr., said he would not cut another check for candidates and political groups that do not support a ban on weapons like the AR-15.