Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Friday he will work to raise the minimum age for purchasing weapons in his state to 21 years old, marking his first major break from the policy priorities of the National Rifle Association.
Scott announced the proposed gun restrictions nine days after a deadly mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, as part of a broad package of legislative initiatives, including new school security measures and a program to deny guns from those deemed to pose a danger to the community.
“I’m an NRA member, a supporter of the Second amendment, and the First amendment, and the entire Bill of Rights for that matter. I’m also a father, and a grandfather, and a governor,” he said. “We all have a difficult task in front of us balancing our individual rights with our obvious need for public safety.”
The proposals he endorsed include a ban on the sale or purchase of so-called “bump stocks,” which can be used to make semiautomatic weapons shoot with the speed of fully automatic weapons. He proposed $50 million in additional funding for mental health initiatives and new funding for trained school security officers.
He also said he would strengthen state laws to prevent the purchase or possession of weapons from any adult “when either a family member, community welfare expert or law enforcement officer files a sworn request, and presents evidence to the court of a threat of violence involving firearms or other weapons.”
He called for funding to provide at least one law enforcement officer at every school as well as money to harden the physical structures of the state’s schools, with additional metal detectors, bullet-proof glass, steel doors, and upgraded locks.
Scott, who is planning for a U.S. Senate campaign this year, stopped short of the demands from surviving students at Stoneman Douglas for a new state ban on assault weapons. “Banning specific weapons and punishing law-abiding citizens is not going to fix this,” he said.
He also declined to endorse proposals for a new waiting period for the purchase of semiautomatic weapons, or the plan backed by President Trump to allow teachers to carry weapons in schools. “I disagree with arming teachers. I think you have to bring in law enforcement,” Scott said.
The swift response, coming in the final weeks of the state’s legislative session, is a dramatic departure for state Republicans, who have spent decades easing gun regulation and giving legal protection to those who use guns in self-defense. No new laws on guns were passed following the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, which killed 49, or the 2017 shooting that killed five at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
The NRA said Wednesday that it would oppose any attempt to raise age limits for weapon purchases. “Passing a law that makes it illegal for a 20-year-old to purchase a shotgun for hunting or an adult single mother from purchasing the most effective self-defense rifle on the market punishes law-abiding citizens for the evil acts of criminals,” said NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker in a statement.
Under Scott’s plan, there would be exceptions allowing active duty and reserve military and spouses, National Guard members, and law enforcement over the age of 18 to own a gun. While federal law bans those under the age of 21 from buying a handgun, current state law in Florida allows 18-year-olds to purchase rifles, including semiautomatic weapons like the one used in the most recent shooting.
Republican Sen. Bill Galvano, the next Senate president from south Tampa, has been working on similar legislation that he planned to present with House and Senate leaders later Friday. Though he has been a supporter of the NRA’s legislative efforts in the past, Galvano said Thursday that the group’s opposition to raising the age for semiautomatic rifle purchases would not change his focus.
“It doesn’t complicate my efforts,” he said after a committee hearing in the Capitol. “I think the desire to act and do something meaningful right now seems to be what’s going to win the day.”
(c) 2018, The Washington Post · Michael Scherer