Gun control: Florida lawmakers approve landmark bill | News | DW | 08.03.2018
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Gun control: Florida lawmakers approve landmark bill

Three weeks after the Parkland school shooting, Florida has taken a step towards a gun control law. The legislature passed a bill that would ban bump stocks and raise the minimum age. Now, it's in the governor's hands.

The legislature of the US state of Florida voted on Wednesday to pass the "Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act," a gun control bill would place some limits to gun access and allow some teachers or school employees to be armed.

Seventeen people were killed at the high school in Parkland, Florida on February 14 when a former student went on the rampage. If the bill is not vetoed by Florida Governor Rick Scott, it would represent a win for survivors, who, in recent weeks, have mobilized and applied pressure on lawmakers to effect change.

Read more: Can a group of Florida high school students change America's cycle of gun violence?

The bill contains the following key provisions:

  • Raises the minimum age to purchase all firearms from 18 to 21
  • Imposes a three-day waiting period on all gun sales.
  • Bans bump stocks, the modification device that converts a semi-automatic weapon into a fully automatic one.
  • Creates a voluntary "guardian program" that allows some school employees to be armed.
  • Increases funding for mental health.

While the bill's provisions respond to most of the appeals of the student activists and their parents, it left out a key demand: the ban on the AR-15 assault weapon.

The legislation narrowly passed the state Senate on Monday before passing in the House of Representatives on Wednesday in a 67-50 vote. Ten House Democrats joined 57 Republicans in support of the bill. Nineteen Republicans and 31 Democrats voted against it.

Governor Scott has not indicated whether he supports the bill or not, but he had previously stated his opposition to the concept of "arming teachers."

Read more: Opinion: US students loudly protest gun laws

The controversy over 'armed teachers'

Democrat legislators described the guardian program as a "poison pill" in a law that otherwise takes necessary steps towards gun control.

"I'm taking and swallowing that poison pill. As much as I don't want to, I can't look in the mirror and leave here and think 'I did nothing to help'," Democratic Representative Joseph Geller said.

Republican member Chris Latvala responded to the guardian program's opposition pointing out that it is not obligatory. "If there are school personnel that want to go to the training to help shield the students and protect them, they should have the opportunity," Latvala said.

Read more: Guns and Wall Street — a match made in heaven?

USA Florida State Capitol in Tallahassee

Lawmakers debate the gun control bill in Tallahassee, Florida

Mixed reactions

Critics and African American legislators still worry that armed school staff  will pose a particular risk to minority students, citing that they would be more likely to be shot in the heat of a disciplinary situation or mistaken as an intruder.

A group of families of victims and survivors of the shooting praised the legislation's passage in a message posted on Twitter and urged Republican Governor Rick Scott to sign the bill.

Andrew Pollack, the father of an 18-year-old who died in the school shooting found the bill satisfactory enough and also encouraged the Governor to sign it.

"More needs to be done, and it's important for the country to be united in the same way the 17 families united in support of this bill," Pollack said after the vote.

Watch video 00:32

Florida House passes gun legislation

Current status

The legal basis for firearm possession in the US is enshrined in the Second Amendment of the Constitution. 

The minimum age to purchase handguns in the US is 21. In Florida, however, an 18-year-old can legally buy rifles, with no waiting period. The school shooter was of legal age when he acquired the semi-automatic rifle bought in the attack. 

In the week following the attack, the White House said US President Donald Trump would back efforts to improve gun background checks.

Read more: 8 facts about gun control in the US

jcg/rt (Reuters, dpa, AP)

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