Kudos to Gov. Rick Scott, who on Friday signed a gun control and school safety bill that before the Parkland massacre would never have passed the Legislature — or even been debated.
Senate Bill 7026, dubbed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, is a testament to the aphorism “politics is the art of the possible.” It doesn’t give gun control proponents what they wanted most — a ban on the sale of AR-15s and similarly styled rifles. It went too far in the eyes of some gun-rights advocates: Powerful lobbyist Marion Hammer earlier this week emailed NRA members urging them to contact their legislators to vote against SB 7026. She said that senators were “being bullied into voting for gratuitous gun control measures.”
An “assault weapon” ban was politically impossible to achieve. Yet, there was bipartisan support to adopt several sensible measures in response to the shooting deaths of 14 South Florida high school students and three staff members last month.
• Raises the age to purchase a firearm to 21 from 18.
• Requires a three-day waiting period for firearm purchases (with some exceptions).
• Bans the sale or possession of “bump-fire” stocks, which allow a legal semiautomatic weapon to fire more like an illegal automatic weapon.
• Bans people deemed “mentally defective” or who have been committed to a mental institution from owning or possessing firearms until a court grants relief.
• Allows law enforcement officers to ask a court to temporarily prohibit someone from possessing or buying firearms or ammunition if there’s evidence the person poses a threat to themselves or others. Often called a “Gun Violence Restraining Order,” or GVRO, this properly balances Second Amendment rights with due process.
• Provides additional funding for armed school resource officers and mental health services.
• Enacts the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program, which would allow some teachers and school personnel to be armed if both the local school district and local sheriff’s department agree.
The guardian program is the bill’s most controversial element. Many teachers, parents and law enforcement officials oppose it, fearing putting guns in schools decreases safety. That compelled most Democratic lawmakers to vote against the entire bill.
However, the program is not mandatory — school districts have the option of not participating.
That nod to home rule on firearms is a shift in a Legislature that has explicitly prohibited city and county governments from setting their own regulations on guns that deviate from state statutes — to the point that local officials were threatened with removal from office if they failed to comply.
It will be interesting to see how many districts participate in the guardian program — and if the $67 million appropriated for it winds up being largely unused.
No panacea exists for mass shootings. Those horrific crimes are complex and unique acts not easily understood by law enforcement or social scientists. For instance, the higher age restriction would’ve applied to the 19-year-old Parkland shooter, but not to the Pulse, Las Vegas or Virginia Tech mass murderers. The Sandy Hook shooter was a 20-year-old who obtained his weapons from his mother, whom he killed. The Columbine shooters were two teens who illegally obtained their guns via an older straw buyer.
A GVRO might have stopped the Parkland and Virginia Tech shooters, but not others.
AR-15s were not used in the Columbine and Virginia Tech massacres.
Nevertheless, SB 7026 represents progress in addressing a disturbing social phenomenon — seven of the 10 worst mass shootings in U.S. history have occurred since 2007, three of those since 2017.
Florida has set an example that Congress and other states should follow: Doing what is feasible is better than doing nothing.
— This editorial first appeared in the Daytona Beach News-Journal.