Defying N.R.A., Florida Lawmakers Back Raising Age Limits on Assault Rifles


Gov. Rick Scott and top state lawmakers proposed on Friday the most significant move toward gun control in Florida in decades, in defiance of the National Rifle Association, though some of their ideas fell short of what student advocates pleaded for after they lost 17 classmates and staff members last week in one of the deadliest school shootings in American history.

The governor, a Republican, backed raising the minimum age to buy any firearm, including semiautomatic rifles, to 21 from 18, a restriction opposed by the N.R.A., one of the most powerful special interest groups in Tallahassee. The minimum-age limit already exists for handguns, and it would have prevented Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old shooting suspect, from lawfully purchasing the AR-15 the police say he used to massacre 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14.

Mr. Scott’s plan, largely endorsed by House and Senate leaders, would not arm teachers, though lawmakers said their own proposals would create a “marshal” program to allow teachers who have had enough hours of training with law enforcement to be armed on campus.

President Trump and the N.R.A. have endorsed putting more armed educators in schools, an idea fiercely opposed by the students from Stoneman Douglas High.

“I disagree with arming teachers,” Mr. Scott said. “My focus is on bringing in law enforcement. I think you need to have individuals who are trained, well trained.”

Mr. Scott, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron also said they would push to ban “bump stocks,” which enable semiautomatic rifles to fire faster; require more safety and mental health training for school personnel; and establish processes for the authorities to better share information about potential at-risk students and security threats.

In all, the governor asked lawmakers for $ 500 million for mental health and school safety programs, including requiring at least one armed police officer for every 1,000 students at public schools.

“If funding this means we won’t be able to cut taxes this year, so be it,” Mr. Scott said.

All three proposals — from the governor, House speaker and Senate president — would give the police more power to use Florida’s Baker Act to keep weapons away from people with mental health problems.

“I want to make it virtually impossible for anyone who has mental issues to use a gun,” Mr. Scott said at a news conference unveiling his proposals. “I want to make it virtually impossible for anyone who is a danger to themselves or others to use a gun.”

The N.R.A. said on Thursday that it opposes the age restriction for gun purchases. But Mr. Trump said on Friday that he supports it, and Mr. Scott said he had not spoken to the N.R.A. about his proposals. Mr. Scott is widely expected to run for a United States Senate seat this year.

Going further than the governor’s plan, lawmakers said they would seek to impose a three-day waiting period on all firearms purchases, which now exists only for handguns. They also would create a statewide commission to investigate the school shooting in Parkland, including a number of failures by the authorities.

“Government has failed on multiple levels,” said Mr. Corcoran, a likely candidate for governor. “That can never happen again.”

Top Republicans in the State House and Senate said on Friday they would file companion bills on gun policy in Tallahassee.CreditAudra Melton for The New York Times

The only armed security guard at Stoneman Douglas High, Deputy Scot Peterson, failed to rush into the building as the shooting took place, Sheriff Scott Israel of Broward County revealed on Thursday, a few hours after the deputy had resigned. On Friday, Mr. Trump said the deputy “certainly did a poor job.”

Since the shooting, Sheriff Israel has ordered deputies to carry rifles on school grounds.

The concerted push for gun control by state leaders is a remarkable change in direction for Florida, which has been at the forefront of expanding gun rights for years. Mr. Scott himself signed legislation in 2011 that prohibited doctors from asking patients if they had access to gun. A court later found most parts of the law unconstitutional.

The joint legislative announcement made on Friday by Mr. Corcoran and Mr. Negron, about an hour after Mr. Scott’s, indicated that a gun control package has a good chance of passing, even though the annual lawmaking session ends soon, on March 9. It would normally take lawmakers much longer than two weeks to vet and approve major legislation.

“There will be a tremendous amount of politics surrounding this issue,” warned Representative Jose Oliva, the No. 2 Republican in the House.

Mr. Scott, asked by a reporter about criticism leveled against him by Senator Bill Nelson, the Democrat the governor might challenge in November, derided Mr. Nelson as a longtime politician who has “never done anything on gun safety or school safety.” Mr. Nelson promptly issued a statement calling the governor’s leadership “weak.”

Passage of any legislation would require Republican lawmakers to buck the N.R.A., which says the focus after the shooting should be on keeping “violent criminals and the dangerously mentally ill” from acquiring guns.

“Legislative proposals that prevent law-abiding adults aged 18-20 years old from acquiring rifles and shotguns effectively prohibits them from purchasing any firearm, thus depriving them of their constitutional right to self-protection,” Jennifer Baker, an N.R.A. spokeswoman, said in a statement on Thursday.

The students who lobbied and protested lawmakers this week in the State Capitol wanted a ban on assault weapons, which was a nonstarter for leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature. Democrats filed bills to ban assault weapons after the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando in 2016, and again at the start of this year’s session in January, but they were never heard.

Senate Democrats have vowed to attach an assault-weapons ban as an amendment to any G.O.P. gun bill, but Republicans comfortably outnumber them in both chambers. A procedural maneuver by House Democrats on Tuesday to bring a ban to the floor for consideration failed by a party-line vote.

“If the tragedies at the Pulse nightclub and, now, Stoneman Douglas High School have taught us nothing else, it is that so long as these high-powered weapons of war remain available for purchase these killings will continue,” Senator Oscar Braynon II, the Democratic leader, said in a statement. “No matter the age, the mental health states, the backgrounds or nationalities, this is the one common denominator shared with the majority of gunmen who have committed mass slayings in this country.”

Also at issue for lawmakers before the end of session will be whether to set aside money to demolish the freshman building at Stoneman Douglas High, where the shooting took place, and erect a new building elsewhere on campus. The Broward County school district estimated the tear-down and construction would cost $ 28.5 million, according to Sharonda Wright-Placide, the chief legislative aide to Senator Kevin Rader, a Democrat who represents Parkland. The total includes the cost of providing temporary space for teachers and students during the construction process.

Last week, groups of lawmakers made emotional visits to the building while it was still a bloody crime scene. Their trips left a lasting impact, they said, as did meeting with survivors of the shooting over the past nine days in Parkland and Tallahassee.

“Those images are still so vivid in my mind,” Mr. Negron said on Friday.

Jess Bidgood and Julie Turkewitz contributed reporting.


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