Fla. Senate backs arming teachers, rejects assault weapons ban

Florida's Senate voted to move forward with a bill in response to the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland after rejecting amendments to remove a program to arm specially trained teachers and ban sales of assault weapons. Photo by Mike Theiler/UPI

March 4 (UPI) — Florida’s Senate voted Saturday night to move forward with a school safety bill, including a provision to arm specially trained teachers and again rejected a ban on assault weapons.

The Senators spent eight hours debating possible amendments to the bill aimed at overhauling school security and keeping guns away from the mentally ill in the rare weekend session following the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, which left 17 students and faculty members dead.

The bill, expected to be approved in a final vote by the Senate on Monday and sent to the House, also includes a $400 million package to fund the school system’s ability to address issues of mental health.

Nearly four dozen Democratic amendments, including banning assault weapons, creating a registry for guns, allowing local governments to pass stronger gun laws, requiring background checks for gun purchases outside of the state and prohibiting the sale and transfer of large-capacity magazines, were rejected.

An amendment to remove the so-called “school marshal program” that would allow school districts to work with county law enforcement to deputize trained school personnel to carry concealed weapons during school hours was rejected by a vote of 20-18.

Gov. Rick Scott and several Parkland parents and students who have spoken to legislative committees have opposed the plan to allow schools to arm teachers.

Most members of Florida’s 28-member Florida Conference of Black Legislators also opposed the program, fearing black students could be discriminated against by armed school officials.

“We can’t agree to that. No type of way. No form. No shape. This is a non-starter,” Sen. Perry Thurston, chairman of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, said.

The state’s Republican majority agreed to accept an amendment requiring deputized school officials to undergo 12 hours of diversity training in addition to the 132 hours of firearms training to be certified to carry a weapon in the school.

The amendment to ban assault rifles was rejected by a vote of 20-17, which was followed by a moment of silence for the 17 Parkland victims at the request of Scott.

The bill does include measures to raise the minimum age to purchase a rifle from 18 to 21 and ban the use sale and possession of bump stocks but Sen. Bill Galvano, who sponsored the bill, said he “did not want to include at this point a complete ban on firearms” because he thought the assault weapons ban would be unconstitutional.

Senators briefly approved a two-year moratorium on the sale of AR-15 assault rifles during an unrecorded voice vote, but it was then reconsidered and overturned by a roll call vote of 21-17.

Galvano said the legislation “empowers law enforcement” to seize and hold firearms from anyone held under the Baker Act for up to 24 hours or longer if they are able to obtain a risk protection order from a court.


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