Florida governor won't say whether he will sign gun bill

Posted: March 8, 2018 at 2:03 p.m.

Rep. Jose Oliva, R- Miami Lakes, front, and other members of the Florida House, applaud Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School parent Andrew Pollack, who's daughter, Meadow Pollack, was killed in the school shooting, in Tallahassee, Fla., Wednesday, March 7, 2018. Oliva shepherd the bill through the House.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Three weeks after the Parkland high school shooting, Florida Gov. Rick Scott has a gun-control bill on his desk that challenges the National Rifle Association, but it falls short of what the Republican and survivors of the massacre demanded.

Scott has not said yet if he will sign the legislation, and he plans to take up the issue with relatives of those who were slain.

"I'm going to take the time and I'm going to read the bill and I'm going to talk to families," he said.

State lawmakers officially delivered the reform package Thursday. The governor has 15 days to sign it, veto it or let it become law without his signature.

Family members of the dead said they have been asked to meet with Scott as early as Friday.

The measure would raise the minimum age to buy rifles from 18 to 21 and extend a three-day waiting period for handgun purchases to include long guns. It would also create a so-called guardian program enabling school employees and many teachers to carry handguns if they go through law enforcement training and their school districts agree to participate.

Other provisions would create new mental health programs for schools, establish an anonymous tip line where students and others could report threats to schools, ban bump stocks and improve communication between schools, law enforcement and state agencies.

Scott has received top marks from the NRA in the past for supporting gun-rights measures, but he broke with the lobbying group after last month's slayings, calling for raising the minimum age to purchase any type of gun.

He does not support arming teachers. Instead, he wanted lawmakers to adopt his own $500 million proposal to put at least one law enforcement officer in every school.

The NRA opposes raising age limits to buy weapons or imposing new waiting periods. In a statement Thursday, NRA and Unified Sportsmen of Florida lobbyist Marion Hammer called the bill "a display of bullying and coercion" that would violate Second Amendment rights and punish law-abiding citizens.

The bill's narrow passage reflected a mix of Republicans and Democrats in support and opposition. Survivors were split as well.

Andrew Pollack, whose daughter was among the 17 killed, said more needed to be done, but there was enough good in the bill that it should pass.

"My precious daughter Meadow's life was taken, and there's nothing I can do to change that. But make no mistake: I'm a father, and I'm on a mission. I'm on a mission to make sure I'm the last dad to ever read a statement of this kind."

Republican Rep. Jay Fant, who is running for attorney general, said raising the minimum age to buy a rifle from 18 to 21 was unconstitutional, and he voted no on the bill.

Fant said he objected to the idea that the shooting suspect, Nikolas Cruz, could "commit such a heinous crime and then as a result we tell, potentially, a 20-year-old single mother living alone that she cannot purchase a firearm to defend herself."

Democratic Rep. Kristin Jacobs, whose district includes Stoneman Douglas, voted yes, even though she does not like the idea of arming teachers.

"There is a cultural divide in this room, in this state and across the country. And there's a bill before us that is not perfect," she said.

The Tampa Bay Times reported that officials in the state's largest school districts, including Miami-Dade and Broward counties, have balked at the idea of arming employees and instead called for funding to support putting sworn law enforcement officers in their schools.

Teachers in some states, including Texas, can carry concealed weapons if they have required training. At least eight states allow, or do not specifically prohibit, concealed weapons in K-12 schools, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. In Florida's Polk County, teachers or other employees at two private universities have trained with the sheriff's office so they can carry concealed weapons on campus.

Cruz was formally charged Wednesday with 17 counts of first-degree murder. The grand jury in Fort Lauderdale also indicted the 19-year-old on 17 counts of attempted murder for the Valentine's Day massacre, which also wounded more than a dozen people.

Cruz's public defender has said he will plead guilty if prosecutors take the death penalty off the table and sentence him to life in prison instead. Prosecutors have 45 days to decide.

The governor, who is expected to mount a U.S. Senate campaign to oust incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson, is in a tough spot politically after splitting with President Donald Trump and some Republicans over what should be done.

Polls suggest voters in Florida want tougher restrictions than the bill offers. A Quinnipiac University poll conducted more than a week after the shootings said 62 percent support a nationwide ban on "assault weapons" and 96 percent support background checks on all gun buyers. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.

Associated Press writers Jennifer Kay and Adriana Gomez Licon in Miami contributed to this report.