Florida lawmakers say they’re working to come up with legislation aimed at curbing school shootings like the one last week in South Florida. Students from across the state are joining those from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to lobby lawmakers for tougher gun laws. But they’re confronting the often confusing reality of legislative politics.
Wednesday, during a House floor session, Democratic Rep. Khione McGhee tried a procedural move to get his chamber to hear a measure banning assault weapons and large-capacity magazines. It was a long-shot, and McGhee admitted as much:
“I ask you keep this bill and solutions to combat mass shootings, alive. While this is an extraordinary procedural move, the shooting in Parkland demands extraordinary action," he said.
The move failed as students, some from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who traveled to Tallahassee to lobby lawmakers, looked on. Some began to cry. Later, Democratic Rep. Carlos Guillermo-Smith launched into Republican Rep. Ross Spano, as Spano tried to explain his resolution to declare pornography a public health risk.
“My question for you, Chair Spano, is why did you make identifying porn as a public health risk a larger and bigger priority than hearing my assault weapons ban, House Bill 219, which is stuck in your criminal justice subcommittee?” said Guillermo-Smith who is the bill's sponsor.
Both moves generated headlines, and sparked backlash. In an interview with the Miami Herald fellow Democratic Rep. Jared Moskowitz blasted his colleagues for what he called, “procedural games.” He added such moves don’t make policy and that “only members from both parties working together on legislation will bring the gun safety changes we need to prevent this from ever happening again.”
Florida lawmakers are vowing to make those changes in the wake of the Parkland school shooting. This week Governor Rick Scott hosted several workshops with educators, law enforcement and mental health professionals to address making schools safer. Among the early proposals—put more armed police officers on patrol in schools. Increase funding for mental health and find better ways to coordinate those services across state agencies, schools and law enforcement. He stopped short of mentioning gun control, but also says all options are on the table.
“As I try to think through these proposals, is it going to change something? Is it going to move the needle, because that’s what I want to do.”
House leader Jose Oliva is going slightly further on the issue, noting while there is a right to bear arms in the constitution, "the question becomes, not that people have that right. I think it’s established that people have that right, it’s what limitations should be placed upon that right, if those limitations can be seen to be something that would prevent something like this terrible tragedy.”
This, from leaders who in recent years, have refused putting further restrictions on guns. When asked what has changed, Oliva points to the students.
“Obviously the outcry from the students, which has been inspirational to see, has played a major role. It’s unmistakable that they’re immediate involvement has motivated a whole group of people to talk about something that has been sacrosanct.”
That something being gun control.
Oliva says both chambers are working on bi-partisan bills that can pass both chambers. While lawmakers are unlikely to take up an out-right ban on semi-automatic guns, they’re looking at limiting access to them—like raising the purchase age, requiring background checks same as with handguns, along with a waiting period, and banning the bump-stock accessory, which allows the gun to fire continuously. Senate President Joe Negron is seeking to reassure upset students that they are not being ignored. Democratic Sen. Gary Farmer asked Negron what the plan is, shortly after a bill allowing guns at churches with schools was put on hold.
“We have a lot of people in the audience who have traveled a long way to have an open and frank and broad discussion on firearms," Farmer said.
"And we will have the opportunity for that," Negron responded. "As you know there will be bills coming from the rules committee that will be considered in committee and subject to questions on second reading on the Senate floor and debate.”
Earlier in the day, a visibly emotional Negron held a moment of silence for the 14 students and three adults killed in the shooting. Watching from the gallery, students in blue t-shirts, many still crying, but determined.