Gun Control Measure Divides Gulf Coast Lawmakers



A controversial gun control and school safety package passed in the Florida House and Senate on Wednesday, even with hard-line Second Amendment supporters voting in opposition alongside Democrats who said the bill doesn’t go far enough. The reforms come weeks after the deadliest school shooting in modern history left 17 dead at a Parkland high school.

The proposal will raise the age limit for purchasing semi-automatic rifles in Florida to 21 and institute a three-day waiting period similar to the one already in place for buying handguns. It also will institute a school marshal program allowing teachers and other professionals on campus to carry firearms.

The measure split Gulf Coast lawmakers. In the Senate, the bill narrowly passed 20-18, with state Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, siding with leadership in favor of the reform but state Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, voting against. In the House, supporters included state Reps. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, and Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, but state Reps. Margaret Good, D-Sarasota, and Newt Newton, D-St. Petersburg, were joined by Julio Gonzalez, R-Venice, in voting against the bill.

“I voted based on what I think is the right thing to do,” Gruters says. He acknowledged supporting an increase in purchase age could upset some conservative voters at a time when he mulls a state Senate run. But voting against the measure would also mean voting down mental health spending and the hardening of schools, and that opposing this bill would mean doing nothing in terms of protecting children. Those voting against the bill, he says, were “on the outer edges of their party.”

Good, for her part, says the reforms do not go far enough, and that the gun control measures are nullified by an unwillingness to close the gun control loophole in Florida or to implement universal background checks. “Arming teachers, janitors and lunch ladies will make our schools more dangerous and our students less safe. Trained law enforcement hit their targets in active shooter situations less than 20 percent of the time,” she says.  And she says Republican leadership wouldn’t consider the biggest measure of all. “It doesn’t ban assault weapons, which is the unifying element to nearly every single mass shooting. Banning these weapons of war is the number one thing Parkland students demanded and we failed them.”

Gonzalez says could not support a bill that unduly infringed on the Second Amendment, particularly for young adults. “Additionally, it was a hollow bill when one considers that the allocation provisions in the rest of the bill were achievable through the budget bill and that the authority to arm school personnel is already legal in Florida,” he says. Health and school safety funding should have gone through a budget process, he says. “A vote down is a vote in protection of the countless law-abiding citizens whose right are going to be unduly and capriciously infringed.”

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