It took killer Nikolas Cruz mere minutes to force the state Legislature to defy the National Rifle Association. That’s something that 30 years of mass murder across the country and in the state of Florida simply could not do.
Wednesday night, 21 days after Cruz massacred 14 former classmates and three educators at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, a House divided gave final passage to, as the Herald reported, “Florida’s first gun restrictions in three decades.” It also approved $400 million for mental health treatment and school safety.
Times, they are a’changin’. Maybe.
The Gun and School Safety Bill (SB 7026), which earlier passed the Senate on a slim 20-18 margin, goes to Gov. Scott, who, as he eyes higher office, does not want to blunder. He said he will first consult with Parkland families.
The bill is a start, but not rooted in reality.
Under the legislation, anyone buying a firearm from a licensed dealer must be at least 21 years of age. But private deals remain less restricted. Cruz bought his AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, legally, when he was 18.
Buyers must wait three days before obtaining their weapon and, most radically, the bill creates the first statewide program that allows trained school personnel — except those who exclusively teach — to carry guns.
The controversial idea of arming teachers, so they can potentially face an armed intruder, is a bad one. The Senate limited the proposal to exclude those who perform “exclusively tasks in the classroom as teachers.” ROTC teachers and security guards, however, could be armed to the schools.
As many teachers have expressed, their task is to teach. Safety should be the responsibility of those trained to do so, such as the police. The Senate made a wise decision to exclude teachers from the requirement to be armed.
The true impact of the bill, if signed by the governor, has yet to be seen. Raising the age at which a Floridian can buy an assault weapon is a good step, but insufficient. In October, when Stephen Paddock rained down bullets from his semiautomatic at more than 20,000 attendees at a country music concert in Las Vegas, he left 58 people dead and 851 wounded. He was 64. In June 2016, security guard Omar Mateen was 29 when he killed 49 people and wounded 58 inside Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando.
Any measure to avoid massacres like the one that recently shook South Florida must be much more rigorous. Verification of the purchaser’s background and mental health status are crucial.
At the same time, a ban on the sale of weapons of war, like Cruz’s AR-15, cannot be summarily dismissed. But too many lawmakers are dead set against even debating the issue, as the student activists found out earlier in the session. Yes, it’s hard to define “automatic weapon.” Yes, results of the federal ban that ended in 2004 show mixed results.
The NRA, for instance, says the ban did not cause crime to decrease one bit. Left unsaid, of course, is that assault weapons are rarely used in murders, robberies, assaults, home invasions and the like. However, it did make these killing machines harder to access.
The assault-weapons ban, enforced between 1994 and 2004, saw a drop in the number of crimes committed with those firearms and also a drop in the body count.
The vocal students who survived can take full credit for pushing the Legislature to take even these baby steps. The NRA is not happy, and that makes our day.