Florida lawmakers put off gun safety proposals, promise mental health funding

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FLORIDA -- (WTVY) Florida lawmakers resolved Thursday to enact policy changes designed to prevent a repeat of the mass shooting at a Parkland high school. Their policy prescriptions, however, diverge significantly according to their respective sides of the political aisle.

The legislature's Republican leaders all but rejected Democratic calls to tighten Florida's gun laws, instead advocating enhanced public school mental health counseling and treatment programs. Increased funding for school security was also floated as a possibility.

But Democrats argue that focusing only on mental health and school security issues ignores the relatively easy access perpetrators of mass shootings have to weapons in a state like Florida, where the politically influential gun lobby has succeeded in weakening or eliminating safeguards that are commonplace elsewhere.

One proposal currently before a Florida Senate committee would allow concealed weapon permits to be issued to applicants whose state-mandated background checks are incomplete.

The measure, tucked into agriculture bill SB 740, is a priority for Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a Republican candidate for governor, who worked to postpone its consideration on Thursday.

"I mourn, along with the rest of the country, for those who lost their lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High and their loved ones, and out of respect for their families and those suffering as a result of this tragedy, I’m working with bill sponsors to postpone consideration of the legislative proposal related to the licensing process," Putnam said in a statement.

"While the shooter would not have even been eligible for a concealed weapon license and clearly had a troubled past that indicated serious mental health issues, the focus now should be on mental health and how we protect our children."

Seizing on Putnam's decision to table the proposal in the aftermath of the shooting, some Democrats challenged him to disown it entirely.

"I'm calling on you, Commissioner Putnam: amend your own bill. Take that gun legislation out of that bill," FL Sen. Gary Farmer (D-Lighthouse Point) said in an interview. "If he doesn't and that bill is heard as it is, I think you're going to see a lot of amendments filed to that bill."

Regardless of the fate of the background check measure, Republicans are unlikely to accede to Democratic demands that a bill to ban the sale of assault weapons be given a hearing. The legislation was filed after last year's mass shooting in Las Vegas, but pro-gun Republicans argue a ban wouldn't have prevented that massacre, nor most others.

"There is already millions of these (assault weapons) on the street," Florida Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio said Thursday in Washington. "And those things, they last 100 years, and so you could pass a law that makes it hard to get this kind of gun in a new condition. But you're going to struggle to keep it out of the hands of someone who has decided that's what they want to use because there are so many of them out there already that would be grandfathered in."

There are numerous bills, both expanding gun rights and expanding gun safety, in the Florida Legislative Session right now, which ends in March.

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