Florida governor proposes new gun sale
limits after school shooting
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[February 24, 2018]
By Zachary Fagenson
PARKLAND, Fla. (Reuters) - Florida Governor
Rick Scott, a loyal ally of the U.S. gun lobby under mounting pressure
to act in the aftermath of last week's deadly mass shooting, urged state
lawmakers on Friday to tighten access to firearms for young people and
the mentally disturbed.
Scott said he would work with the Republican-controlled legislature over
the next two weeks to raise the minimum legal age for buying any gun in
Florida from 18 to 21, with some exceptions for younger individuals
serving in the military or law enforcement.
That proposal put the Republican governor at odds with the National
Rifle Association (NRA), which has opposed higher age limits in Florida,
where a person must be at least 21 to buy a handgun but can be as young
as 18 to purchase an assault rifle.
But Scott, who has been endorsed by the NRA and received its highest
rating for supporting the rights of gun owners, said he opposed an
outright ban on assault rifles, as some gun control advocates have
He also backed adoption of a law, like those enacted in a handful of
other states, allowing police and family members to obtain restraining
orders to bar people suspected of posing a threat of violence from
Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, who is leading the investigation of
the Feb. 14 shooting rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School,
welcomed Scott's plan as a "strong first step in giving us the proactive
ability to keep Florida safer."
But critics of the plan, which closely mirrored proposed measures
unveiled on Friday by leaders of the state legislature, said it failed
to go far enough.
"He is doing the bare minimum," said U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida
Democrat widely expected to face a re-election challenge this year from
Julie Kessel, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, called
Scott's proposals "very small, incremental changes."
The 17 people slain in the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Parkland were shot
with a semiautomatic AR-15-style assault weapon, which authorities say
was purchased legally last year by the accused gunman, Nikolas Cruz,
when he was 18 years of age.
Cruz, now 19, a former Stoneman Douglas student who authorities said had
a history of run-ins with the law and was expelled from school for
disciplinary problems, has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Broward County
Sheriff's Office have since acknowledged receiving several tips over the
past two years from callers saying they had reason to believe Cruz was
inclined to commit a school shooting.
In one of those tips, an unidentified caller warned the FBI about the
gunman's possible intentions a month before the shooting, the Wall
Street Journal reported.
"He's going to explode," the woman, who was close to Cruz, told to a tip
line operator on Jan. 5, according to a transcript reviewed by the
In addition to age limits, Scott said he wanted to change state laws to
make it "virtually impossible for anyone who has mental issues to use a
gun," echoing similar calls by U.S. President Donald Trump.
The governor called in particular for a new program allowing a family
member, police officer or community welfare expert to seek a special
court order barring the purchase or possession of a firearm by anyone
shown to pose a safety threat due to mental illness or violent behavior.
Scott also urged amending state law so that anyone involuntarily
hospitalized as dangerously mentally ill be stripped of all access to
firearms, with a court hearing required before their gun rights could be
[to top of second column]
Florida Governor Rick Scott listens during a meeting with law
enforcement, mental health, and education officials about how to
prevent future tragedies in the wake of last week's mass shooting at
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, at the Capitol in Tallahassee,
Florida, U.S., February 20, 2018. REUTERS/Colin Hackley
RENEWED FOCUS ON BACKGROUND CHECKS
Federal law bars possession of firearms by anyone found by a court
or other legal authority to be a danger to themselves or others.
Convicted felons, fugitives and people with a record of drug
addiction also are banned from owning guns.
But many states have been slow in furnishing mental health records
to the FBI database used in flagging prospective buyers who are
supposed to be prohibited from owning a weapon.
The governor's proposals come amid a reignited national debate on
gun rights, led in part by some of the student survivors of last
week's massacre, ranked as the second deadliest U.S. public school
shooting on record.
Students and parents calling for tougher gun controls traveled
earlier this week to meet with politicians in Tallahassee, the state
capital, and with Trump at the White House.
Trump has suggested arming teachers as a way of curbing gun violence
in schools, as advocated by the NRA. He has also called for raising
the legal age for buying rifles nationally to 21, and for beefing up
background checks on prospective gun buyers.
On Capitol Hill on Friday, a group of 18 House Republicans urged
House Speaker Paul Ryan to schedule a vote on legislation
strengthening background checks.
The legislation already passed the House in December. But it was
coupled with a controversial measure aimed at significantly
expanding permits for carrying concealed weapons.
The group of House Republicans urged Ryan to bring it to the House
floor as a stand-alone bill so that it will have a greater chance of
approval by the Senate and enactment into law.
Scott also called for posting law enforcement officers in every
public school and for mandatory "active shooter training" for
students and faculty.
He spoke as staff members were returning to Stoneman Douglas for the
first time since the massacre.
"Everything was quiet, and looked like it was frozen in time,"
social studies teacher Greg Pittman said.
Outside the school, some teachers gazed at flowers and makeshift
memorials. One woman who brought balloons to add to the displays
fell to her knees in tears.
Classes are due to resume next Wednesday, but the building where
most of the bloodshed occurred will remain closed.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Trump criticized the armed
sheriff's deputy assigned to the school for doing a "poor job." The
deputy, Scot Peterson, resigned after an internal investigation
found he failed to go inside and confront the shooter, the Broward
sheriff said on Thursday.
(Reporting Zachary Fagenson in Parkland, Florida, Richard Cowan in
Washington and Jonathan Allen, Gina Cherelus and Dan Trotta in New
York; Writing by Jonathan Allen and Steve Gorman; Editing by Colleen
Jenkins, Jonathan Oatis and Daniel Wallis)
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