Florida, one of the most gun-friendly states in the nation, which took 30 years to enact any gun-control measures, whose governor consistently gets the National Rifle Association’s equivalent of a gold star and that seriously considered letting college students bring guns onto campus, now — incredibly — is in the NRA’s crosshairs.
Friday, Gov. Rick Scott signed into law gun reforms that, right up to Feb. 13, neither he nor NRA-compliant Republicans in the state Legislature could ever have imagined daring to even suggest.
Then, Feb. 14.
Seventeen people were shot dead. That many again were wounded. A teenage gunman had rampaged through the halls of the freshman building at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County. Nikolas Cruz, 19, who had been armed with an A-15 semi-automatic rifle, was arrested, jailed and, last week, indicted on 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted murder.
Stoneman Douglas survivors — students and faculty, parents and allies — marched loudly on Tallahassee. The GOP-led body did its best to ignore them. Didn’t work. Weeks later a bipartisan package of gun restrictions emerged that now is Florida law. The restrictions raise the minimum age to buy any firearm to 21. Cruz could legally purchase his AR-15 when he was 18, which is precisely what he did. They extend the waiting period to three days before a purchaser can obtain a gun; they ban bump stocks, devices that, when attached to a semi-automatic rifle, let it fire even faster. They fund enhanced school security and mental health services.
Most controversially, the law allows schools to arm specific employees — coaches, librarians and counselors — but not full-time classroom teachers. That legislators backed off of arming classroom teachers offers a small measure of relief. However, we continue to think that staffers with guns generally is an unwise move, fraught with the risk of the wrong people dying. Stoneman students themselves and, according to recent polls, the majority of Floridians do not back more guns in school.
The reforms do not include an assault-weapons ban, which students fervently sought. But that’s basically a third-rail issue for Republicans and, therefore, a nonstarter.
For most Floridians, the reforms are long, long overdue. However, for a governor who has an A+ NRA rating, who would otherwise never think of poking his benefactor in the eye, who might like to ascend, unimpeded by controversy, to higher office, signing the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act was practically a profile in courage — a stunning break from the NRA.
In response, the NRA, in its relentless push to arm the universe, has sued the state of Florida for what it calls a “blanket ban” that prohibits anyone between 18 and 21 from buying a gun. The suit gives Florida, and the nation, the chance to see if the governor continues to stand firm and courageous by pushing the state’s legal team to mount a vigorous defense of Florida’s efforts to protect its people.