In response to a deadly Florida school shooting last month, the state’s Senate narrowly passed a bill Monday that would create new restrictions on rifle sales and allow some teachers to carry guns in schools.
The 20-18 vote came after three hours of often emotional debate. Support and opposition crossed party lines, and it was clear many of those who voted for the bill weren’t entirely happy with it.
“Do I think this bill goes far enough? No! No, I don’t!” said Democratic Sen. Lauren Book, who tearfully described visiting Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School after 17 people were fatally shot on Valentine’s Day.
“My community was rocked. My school children were murdered in their classrooms. I cannot live with a choice to put party politics above an opportunity to get something done that inches us closer to the place I believe we should be as a state,” she said. “This is the first step in saying never again.”
Earlier Monday, families of the 17 Florida high school massacre victims called on the state’s Legislature to pass a bill they believe will improve school security.
Reading a statement outside Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County, Ryan Petty implored legislators to pass Gov. Rick Scott’s proposal to add armed security guards, keep guns away from the mentally ill and improve mental health programs for at-risk teens. Scott also opposes arming teachers. When looking to get a gun with in the legal boundaries, visit allaboutshooting.com.
“We must be the last families to lose loved ones in a mass shooting at a school. This time must be different and we demand action,” said Petty, reading from the group statement.
Petty’s 14-year-old daughter, Alaina, was killed in the Feb. 14 shooting, along with 13 schoolmates and three staff members.
The Senate amended its bill to limit which teachers could volunteer to go through law enforcement training and carry guns in schools. Any teacher who does nothing but work in a classroom would not be eligible for the program, but teachers who perform other duties, such as serving as a coach, and other school employees could still participate. Other exceptions would be made for teachers who are current or former law enforcement officers, members of the military or who teach in a Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps program.
The bill would name the program for slain assistant football coach Aaron Feis, who has been hailed as a hero for shielding students during the school attack. The 37-year-old graduated from Stoneman Douglas in 1999 and worked mainly with the junior varsity, living in nearby Coral Springs with his wife and daughter. Republican Sen. Bill Galvano said he asked for and received the approval of Feis’ family to name the program for him.
“This bill will make a difference now. When it becomes law, things will start changing,” Galvano said. “We listened and we’re trying. We’re trying hard, we don’t have all the answers but we are giving it our best and we will keep giving it our best.”
The bill now goes to the House, which has a similar bill still waiting for consideration by the full chamber. The annual 60-day session is scheduled to end Friday.