FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The Florida House passed a school-safety bill Wednesday that includes new restrictions on rifle sales and a program to arm some teachers in a response to the shooting at a Parkland high school that left 17 people dead.
Earlier in the day, the suspected gunman, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, was formally charged in the shooting.
The 67-50 vote, which sent the bill to the governor, reflected a mix of Republicans and Democrats in support and opposition. The measure is supported by the victims' families.
Andrew Pollack, who lost his 18-year-old daughter Meadow in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, and Ryan Petty, who lost his 14-year-old daughter Alaina, said that there was enough good in the bill that it should pass.
Rep. Kristin Jacobs, a Democrat, said she did not like the idea of arming teachers, but she voted yes. Rep. Jay Fant, a Republican, said raising the minimum age to buy a rifle from 18 to 21 was unconstitutional, and he voted no.
"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," said Jacobs, whose district includes Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
The bill would raise the minimum age to buy rifles from 18 to 21 and create a waiting period on sales of the weapons. It also would create a so-called guardian program that would let school employees and many teachers carry handguns if they go through law enforcement training and if the school district decides to participate in the program.
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.
Bump stocks can make guns shoot with the speed of an automatic weapon. The devices were not used in the Feb. 14 massacre but were used in the shooting at a Las Vegas concert in October that killed 58 people.
Fant, who is running for attorney general, said the gun restrictions violate the constitution.
"I just can't imagine that Nikolas Cruz can 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," Fant said.
The Florida Senate narrowly passed the bill Monday.
Gov. Rick Scott declined to say Wednesday if he would sign the legislation.
Scott has repeatedly said he doesn't support arming teachers and pushed lawmakers to adopt his proposal, which called for at least one law enforcement officer in every school and one for every 1,000 students in a school.
"I'm going to take the time and I'm going to read the bill and I'm going to talk to families," Scott said.
Many of the lawmakers voting no were Democrats who took issue with a provision of the bill that would allow some school personnel to be armed.
"I want all students to be safe in school," said state Rep. Cynthia Stafford, a Democrat. "I believe this is dangerous because there is an implicit bias against boys and girls of color."
With that bias in mind, Stafford and other black Democrats feared that a minority-group student who reaches for a phone during a mass shooting could be mistaken for the shooter by school staff members with firearms.
Others feared that, under Florida's "stand your ground" law, armed school staff members could shoot students even under circumstances that did not involve an active shooter.
"Look to the future, because the day that it happens, the next set of blood, the next massacre, that's on your hands," said Rep. Amy Mercado, a Democrat. "Are you willing to have that on your hands?"
But for Democrats who represent the area where the shooting occurred, there was never any question of voting no on the bill.
"I didn't hear crying. I heard screaming," Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs, said of the night of the shooting, as parents were informed of their children's deaths. "It haunts me."
The measure also included money to raze and rebuild the school building where the shooting occurred, funds for a memorial to the victims and money for an investigation into potential law enforcement failures around the Douglas attack.
Under the bill, state law enforcement agencies would get new powers to temporarily remove weapons from people deemed to be a risk. And there would be a new judicial process to remove guns and ammunition from people deemed a threat to themselves or others.
These so-called risk protection orders have become a top-tier priority for gun-control lobbyists, and lawmakers in 30 states have introduced or plan bills to give judges greater powers to remove guns. Five states, including California, Indiana and Connecticut, currently have the laws in place.
Meanwhile, federal efforts to further regulate guns and improve the federal background check system have sputtered in Washington, caught up in the political divide that has undermined previous attempts to tighten rules for firearms.
The U.S. Senate has not scheduled any debate on gun legislation, with a bill on background checks stalled. The House of Representatives is planning a vote next week only on a new grant program to educate teachers and students on identifying and intervening when school violence breaks out.
President Donald Trump, who plans to meet with leaders of the video-game industry today, has not put forward his own school-safety proposal, after initially saying he supported arming teachers, raising the age for some purchases and removing guns from people deemed dangerous before a judicial review.
17 MURDER COUNTS
Cruz, the shooting suspect, was formally charged Wednesday with 17 counts of first-degree murder, which could mean a death sentence if he is convicted.
The indictment returned by a grand jury in Fort Lauderdale also charges Cruz with 17 counts of attempted murder in the Feb. 14 massacre.
Cruz's public defender has said he will plead guilty if prosecutors take the death penalty off the table, which would mean a life prison sentence. Prosecutors have 45 days to decide if they want to seek the death penalty.
James and Kimberly Snead, the couple who gave Cruz a home after his mother died late last year, testified before the grand jury. James Snead and the couple's attorney, Jim Lewis, wore silver "17" pins to honor the victims of the shooting.
The couple is "trying to do the right thing" and is mourning along with the rest of the Parkland community, Lewis said.
"We'll let justice take its course at this point," Lewis said. "They still don't know what happened, why this happened. They don't have any answers. They feel very badly for everybody."
Cruz told investigators that he took an AR-15 rifle to his former school on Feb. 14 and started shooting into classrooms.
Jail records released by the Broward County sheriff's office show Cruz was being held in solitary confinement. Officers described Cruz as avoiding eye contact with deputies but also being cooperative and engaged with his visitors.
The report said Cruz "often sits with a blank stare," asked for a Bible to read and appeared to be "smiling and giggling" during one visit with his attorneys. Investigators and psychiatrists also have visited Cruz in his single-person cell in the jail's infirmary, where officers note his activities every 15 minutes.
His brother visited him twice, along with Roxanne Deschamps, who took in both teens after their mother died in November. Cruz lived with Deschamps only briefly before moving in with the Sneads.
Information for this article was contributed by Josh Replogle, Gary Fineout, Freida Frisaro, David Fischer and Jennifer Kay of The Associated Press; by Michael Scherer of The Washington Post; and by Dan Sweeney of the Sun Sentinel.
A Section on 03/08/2018
Print Headline: Gun restrictions go to Florida governor; Suspect in school shooting is charged