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Mental Illness, Guns: Officials Divided On Focus After Parkland Shooting

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson asks for a moment of silence on the Senate floor to remember the victims of the shootiing at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Federal elected officials who represent the area where 17 people died Wednesday said they are committed to trying to prevent another mass shooting — but differ on where the focus of public attention should be.

The site of the shooting, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, is in U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch’s district. Thursday morning he said every option needs to be on the table.

“We can’t limit it in any way. We have to talk about mental health, we also have to talk about guns, we also have to talk about schools. All of it matters. All of it,” he said.

At a press conference Thursday, Gov. Rick Scott vowed to work to keep mentally ill people from getting guns. Deutch, a Democrat, said he supports the Republican governor’s pledge.

“Someone whose mental condition makes that person dangerous, that person shouldn’t be able to get a gun. The governor’s right about it, and I hope what he does is encourage my colleagues in Washington to support universal background checks so that we make sure dangerous people can’t get their hands on guns,” Deutch said.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio told WFOR on Wednesday evening that the conversation needs to go beyond the availability of guns.

“The gun part gets a lot of coverage, but the violence one is the one we also need to examine. I mean, it’s important to understand the United States of America is by all accounts the richest, the most prosperous, the freest society in all of human history. I’m not saying we’re perfect and I’m not saying we don’t have issues in this country, but one of the questions we have to ask ourselves is why is it that we are a place with so much prosperity, so much opportunity and we have a 19-year-old man that is willing to take the life of 17 people and try to take the life of many more.

“There’s a deeper issue at play. Is it mental illness? Is it the direction of our culture? What is happening beyond simply the methods that people are using to take life but what is happening underneath the surface that’s leading to this?”

His colleague Sen. Bill Nelson took to the floor of the Senate on Thursday — and said the focus does need to be on guns.

“These tragedies have led so many of us to come right here to this floor and to beg our colleagues to take common sense actions that we all know will help protect our children and our fellow citizens from these kinds of tragedies. And we get nowhere. So when is enough going to be enough?” he asked.

“This senator grew up on a ranch. I have hunted all my life. I have had guns all my life. I still hunt with my son,” he said. “But an AR-15 is not for hunting. It’s for killing.”

U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, whose district starts roughly 30 miles south of Parkland in Pembroke Pines, shared her frustration over the number of guns in America on social media Thursday.  

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Nancy Klingener covers the Florida Keys for WLRN. Since moving to South Florida in 1989, she has worked for the Miami Herald, Solares Hill newspaper and the Monroe County Public Library.