Florida House debates school safety bill
Parkland, Fla. – Family members of people killed in a South Florida school shooting gave emotional testimony Tuesday during a legislative hearing to discuss passing a bill that would allow for armed teachers and raise the age limit to buy rifles.
Max Schachter, father of 14-year-old victim Alex Schachter who died Feb. 14 at his high school, said the bill the House committee eventually approved doesn’t go far enough – but could have saved his son.
“If we would have had these measures in place, I would not have had to bury my son next to his mother a week and a half ago. I’m standing your for your help. I’m pleading for your help. I’m willing to compromise. Are you?” he asked.
A House committee approved the bill that would raise the minimum age to buy rifles from 18 to 21 and creates a three-day waiting period for all gun purchase. The bill would also create a program that allows teachers who receive law enforcement training and are deputized by the local sheriff’s office to carry concealed weapons in the classroom if also approved by the school district.
Marion Hammer, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association and Unified Sportsmen of Florida, told the House Appropriations Committee that she supports hardening schools and keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, but couldn’t support the bill because of the new restrictions on gun ownership.
After the meeting, she said the restrictions wouldn’t have stopped the Parkland shootings.
“Part of what we need to do is make people understand that guns are not the problem. None of the gun control that they have in this bill will stop mass shooters with mental illness. There are laws in place that if they had been followed, that shooter could have been stopped so many times it makes your head spin. So passing more laws dealing with guns as a solution to a problem that exists within the enforcement of laws is just kind of silly.”
The 23-6 vote Tuesday followed more than four hours of emotional discussion, including from parents of some of the 17 killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day.
Linda Beigel Schulman, mother of 35-year-old geography teacher Scott Beigel, spoke on the need to raise the minimum age to buy a rifle to 21, as well as banning assault-style rifles and putting limits on the size of ammunition magazines. She spoke against the idea of arming teachers.
“If you can’t legally buy a beer in Florida, why should you be able to legally obtain a weapon of war that can kill people? If you are not mature to consume alcohol, why would you then be mature enough to handle a firearm?” Schulman said.
Democratic Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a former Parkland vice mayor, said he didn’t like the bill, but still voted for it. He explained, “It doesn’t go far enough, and now it goes too far in other areas. But the NRA opposes it and I will not vote with the NRA.”
Unlike Monday, when hundreds of sometimes rowdy protesters jammed a Senate meeting to consider a similar bill, Tuesday’s proceedings were more orderly. Several speakers spoke in favor of the assault weapons ban, including Parkland resident Amber Hersh.
“Our children lost a friend. Our friend lost a daughter. This is your opportunity. The world is watching,” she told the committee.
An amendment to ban assault weapons was rejected on an 18-11 vote.
A Senate committee was going to take up a similar bill later in the day.
As the bill moves through the Legislature, the court case of Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old accused of killing 17 people at the high school in Parkland, is underway.
A judge has refused to step aside from the case as requested by his lawyers. Court records show Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer denied the request Monday.
Cruz’s lawyers claimed Scherer has made rulings and comments that indicate favoritism for prosecutors. They said in court papers that Cruz can’t get a fair trial, but Scherer disagreed.
Cruz is charged with 17 counts of murder in the Valentine’s Day shooting.
A Tuesday morning hearing in the criminal case against Cruz was canceled after lawyers reached an agreement for prosecutors to get hair samples, fingerprints, DNA and photographs of him.
Meanwhile, students are scheduled to return to school Wednesday, for the first time since the Feb. 14 shooting.
Andrew Pollack, the father of 18-year-old victim Meadow Pollack, told legislators Tuesday that the entire country is watching.
“I can’t tell you how much pain is running through my body. Every day I feel it. I don’t want anyone to feel the pain that I feel,” he said. “So right now in Florida, we have the chance to stop it. And we have the obligation, because every other state in this country is watching Florida right now, what we’re going to do.
“A child should go to school and not worry that some animal is going to walk in with a gun.”