Florida passes bill on gun-buying age

‘POISON PILL’::State lawmakers included funding for arming school employees, which Democrats said they swallowed as a concession to get the age limit through


Fri, Mar 09, 2018 - Page 7

The US state of Florida, scene of a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, on Wednesday passed a bill that raises the minimum age to buy firearms to 21, while funding a program that allows some teachers and school employees to be armed.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, named to commemorate the mass shooting on Feb. 14 in which 17 people, including 14 students, were killed, passed the Florida House of Representatives one day after clearing the state Senate.

It will now be sent to Florida Governor Rick Scott to sign. The Republican has not indicated whether he would veto the law, but he has previously expressed opposition to US President Donald Trump’s call to arm teachers.

The US’ long moribund gun control debate was revived by survivors of the shooting, who a day after their school was attacked launched the Never Again MSD movement demanding legislative action.

The bill would raise the minimum age to purchase all firearms from 18 to 21 — a move opposed by the powerful US National Rifle Association — ban modification devices that make semi-automatic weapons fully automatic and increases mental health funding.

It also includes a voluntary “guardian program” named after coach Aaron Feis, who was slain in the attack, which is intended to “aid in the prevention or abatement of active assailant incidents on school premises” by allowing some school employees to be armed.

The program is mainly aimed at staff, such as coaches and school personnel, with teachers eligible if they have military or law enforcement experience. Bringing more guns into school has been a controversial idea, but lawmakers defended the bill.

“I understand the angst about the guardian program, but I can’t help but think about the coaches who literally ran in as shields to protect their students ... while guys with guns were standing outside,” state Representative Chris Latvala said.

“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,” he said.

Meanwhile, Democrat legislators said that the guardian program was a “poison pill” in a law otherwise taking necessary steps toward 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,’” state Representative Joseph Geller said.

African-American representatives also expressed fears that arming black school employees could leave them vulnerable to being mistaken for attackers by police arriving on the scene of a mass shooting.

Florida has seen three mass shootings in less than two years: 49 were killed at an Orlando nightclub in 2016, five last year at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and 17 in the school shooting.

The bill does not ban the sale of the AR-15 assault rifle, the weapon used by gunman Nikolas Cruz on Feb. 14 — one of the campaigners’ key demands.

Meanwhile, parents of children killed in gun violence implored the US Congress to seize the moment and enact far-reaching gun reform as the momentum for taking action stalls in politically divided Washington.

With no lawmakers from the controlling Republican Party present, a group of Democratic senators held a makeshift hearing at the US Capitol to hear testimony from grieving relatives, a survivor of the shooting, teachers and police officers demanding changes to the nation’s laws.

“How many more children are going to need to be slaughtered?” 17-year-old Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg asked the senators.