A rare Saturday session ended in disappointment for Democrats as Florida legislators shot down a proposed assault rifle ban. A two-year ban on the controversial weapon was initially approved before Senate President Joe Negron challenged the result and called for a fresh vote.
The ban was in place for 15 minutes before it was swatted down.
Florida’s politics have been in turmoil since the Valentine’s Day shooting at a Parkland high school. The sheer devastation is forcing people to rethink their views on gun control. Lawmakers ultimately rejected an assault rifle ban but implemented less controversial measures.
The bill that congressmen and women managed to agree on, known as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, pumps money into mental health programs and prioritizes school safety.
The Senate is expected to approve the measure this week.
“If anything has come out of that tragedy, it is the realization that we have not done enough to this point comprehensively to have mechanisms in place … to prevent this from occurring,” Republican Sen. Bill Galvano said.
It’s a win for activists, but not exactly what they wanted. Most of the policy points Democrats pushed for were abandoned. The assault rifle ban failed, as did an effort to implement stronger background check laws.
“I’m disappointed,” said Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon. “A lot of our ideas were good and some were kept off just to keep them off.”
The assault weapons ban was eventually defeated 20-17.
The legislation that Republicans support is expected to cost at least $400 million with $69 million going to school districts to help them combat mental health issues. The bill focuses on gun control measures that Floridians actually support. One of the more striking provisos is that it raises the age to buy a rifle or shotgun to 21.
“I think this journey is just beginning,” said Sen. Galvano.
“This is not the end all and be all. I think we have much to do in this area, and I plan to do much in this area so that all people are safe to lead their daily lives and be productive in this state.”
Congressmen also debated the merits of a “school marshall program” which would require school districts to coordinate with law enforcement to train staff members in weapons handlings. The measure is highly controversial.
President Trump has expressed support for arming teachers, but a lot of other voices remain vehemently opposed. Parkland shooting survivors are among the most vocal critics of the idea. According to the Tampa Bay Times: “A statewide Quinnipiac University poll conducted last week said 56 percent of voters oppose the idea and 40 percent support the giving teachers firearms.”
Florida Senators ultimately decided in favor of school safety officers and school marshalls.
Still, the most contentious issue was the assault rifle ban.
“They are designed to kill … modified for civilian use and then sold to the public with billions of dollars of profit,” he said. “The reason it is not being included is not because of constitutional law. It is a political decision not to include an assault weapons ban in here.”
Republicans argue that an assault rifle ban would be unconstitutional. A lot of people are upset over the recent spate of mass shootings, but infringing on the rights granted by the Second Amendment isn’t the way to cure anything.
The strictest gun control measures advocated by the Democrats weren’t adopted, but the National Rifle Association (NRA) is still furious.
“Senators are being bullied into voting for gratuitous gun control measures in order to be able to vote on school safety,” the group wrote in a message.
“Senate leadership is trying to force Senators to vote for gun control if they want to vote to harden schools, to put armed security in schools and to keep guns out of the hands of dangerously mentally ill people.”
In the last 24 months, 8,500 felons and 2,400 domestic violence abusers were denied guns after failing a background check. Most of those people, however, were allowed to walk free after being denied.
The Parkland shooter, Nikolas Cruz, shouldn’t have had access to a gun. His mental health and criminal record both should have been enough to prevent him from obtaining the weapon he used in the shooting.
It’s possible to address those concerns without taking away people’s guns. That’s what the Florida Senate attempted to do Saturday.