Within one week, Governor Rick Scott not only signed a gun safety bill into law, he also approved the budget, which includes millions of dollars for school safety purposes. Still, that didn’t prevent the National Rifle Association from filing a federal lawsuit against a provision in the new safety law. And, on the one month mark of the Parkland mass school shooting, thousands of kids across the nation walked out of their schools. Some Parkland families also asked officials to put ideas on the ballot to ban assault rifles and have universal background checks, and lawmakers in Washington D.C. may be moving forward on gun safety bills of their own.
The last time Tony Montalto and his wife came to St. Petersburg, it was for a happy occasion.
“It was to see the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Eagle Regiment, the Marching Band and Color Guard together perform in the Florida State Championship,” he said. “Our kids won the top spot that night, and we were all happy and so proud of them. Here we are less than six months later after a 19-year-old with an assault-style weapon—which he was allowed to purchase legally—walked into Gina’s school. That day he ended the life of our 14-year-old daughter, three teachers, and 13 other children.”
After Montalto’s daughter Gina was killed in the Parkland mass shooting last month, he and other parents have gone to Tallahassee, Washington D.C., and now St. Petersburg to make sure something is done.
With Montalto at his side, the Governor signed a new gun safety law in Tallahassee. Now, Montalto is hoping the Constitution Revision Commission can do something as well.
The CRC—which recently met in St. Petersburg—is a 37-member panel that meets every 20 years to revise the state constitution and put the matter before voters on the November ballot.
One proposal the full CRC is expected to take up is similar to the new law signed by the Governor. It includes raising the minimum age for anyone to buy a gun from 18 to 21 and a waiting period for the purchase. The goal is to avoid any legal challenges on the state level.
The new law is already the subject of a federal lawsuit brought by the National Rifle Association, because the NRA dislikes the age limit.
“Should the voters choose to give their support to these safety measures, they will then be included in the Florida Constitution, where these hard fought provisions will be more secure,” Montalto stated. “Successfully challenging the constitution in this state will be an extremely difficult legal task.”
There’s also a CRC proposal that includes an assault weapons ban and universal background checks, which Montalto told the CRC members he also likes.
“I cannot help, but think how different life would be today for our family, had the changes in this proposed amendment been enacted before now,” he continued. “Please, help make Florida a safer place. Put this proposed change on the ballot this year. Thank you.”
Meanwhile, on the same Wednesday Montalto spoke before the CRC, thousands of kids from all across the country held walkouts to stand in solidarity with those who lost their lives in Parkland a month before, protest gun violence, and call for safer schools.
Florida's Governor Rick Scott also voiced support for the National Walkout Day, adding it was students who helped bring change to Tallahassee.
“I want to thank the Parkland students and other students that came to Tallahassee to try and have an impact,” he said. “We passed historical legislation that is going to put more law enforcement officers in our schools. We’re going to put more mental health counselors in our schools. We’re going to say, if you struggled with mental illness, or threaten yourself or others, you’re not going to have access to a weapon. I think all those things are positive. I think it’s good that people are involved in the political process. I think the more people that are involved in the political process, great things will happen.”
Scott, as well as Florida legislative leadership have also said they’re not phased by the NRA lawsuit.
“I feel comfortable that the 18 to 21 issue—which I understand is one of the issues that’s being litigated—that already have that in our Florida constitution for handguns,” said Senate President Joe Negron. “So, our voters have spoken and it’s in our constitution. So, I feel comfortable with the action that we took. And, it will be up to a judge and then probably an appellate court to make that determination. But, I feel confident in the bill that we passed, and I think it’s constitutional.”
And, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who may be mulling over a possible run for Governor, agreed.
“I say it all the time,” he stated. “I think I’ve been sued more times than any other presiding officer, and I don’t think we’ve lost a case. I don’t think we’ll lose the case. I think what we did was constitutional, it was extremely impactful and it will go down—in five to ten years people will talk completely differently about the bill we passed, including the NRA.”
But, speaking recently on Fox 13 in Tampa, Florida Agriculture Commissioner and Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam stated he likely would not have signed the legislation.
“I oppose the longer wait which would not have altered anything about this situation,” he said, at the time. “In fact, Governor Scott was also opposed to that, and I oppose raising it from 18 to 21.”
“So, you would not have signed that into law,” asked the reporter.
“Likely not because I oppose raising it from 18 to 21,” Putnam replied. “I don’t believe that is the right approach.”
Meanwhile, on the national level, the U.S. House in Congress has passed a bill that authorizes funds to provide more training for school officials and help law enforcement identify the signs of those at risk for violence. That’s $500 million in grants over the course of a decade.
The U.S. Senate could soon take up a measure encouraging states to enter more information in a background check database. Another bipartisan measure spearheaded by Florida’s U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson includes strengthening background checks and allows for law enforcement to seize weapons of those deemed a significant threat.
For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.