Gov. Scott proposes major changes following school shooting, student protest
By St. Clair Murraine and Cedrell Mitchell
During the waning days of Florida’s current legislative session, politicians on both sides of the aisle will be attempting to find ways to fund a $500 billion proposal by Gov. Rick Scott for school safety.
Scott presented his proposal nine days after students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland descended on the Capitol in Tallahassee demanding that lawmakers improve school safety. Thousands of students from around the state joined in the protest by walking out of their classrooms.
The protest stemmed from Nikolas Cruz’s attack with an A-R 15 riffle on Marjory Stoneman High School in Parkland. The Valentine’s Day massacre claimed 17 lives and left many more injured.
The package that Scott has proposed will emphasize new gun-control laws, school safety and mental health evaluations for students.
During a press conference this past Friday to announce a three-prong plan for school safety, Scott praised the Parkland students’ brevity to take on lawmakers.
“It took a lot of guts,” Scott said. “What they went through is devastating.”
Reaction to the governor’s proposal came quickly from state lawmakers. House Speaker Richard Corcoran and several other politicians spent this past weekend making public appearances to say they backed Scott.
Law enforcement will play a big role in implementing the portion of Scott’s plan that calls for more on protection on school grounds.
He said he wants mandatory law enforcement officers in all public schools at a ratio of one officer for every 1,000 students. Additionally, Scott wants sheriff officers to regularly participate in active shooter drills at all public schools.
As part of what Scott calls hardening security measures, he said schools also will have metal detectors, steel doors and upgraded locks.
The governor also outlined several changes regarding gun purchases by anyone identified as suffering from mental illness. That includes a 60-day waiting period for a mentally-ill person who has been Baker Acted, the governor said.
“I want to make it virtually impossible for anyone who has a mental issue to use a gun,” Scott said. “I want to make it impossible for anyone who is a danger to themselves or anyone to use a gun.”
Following the shooting at Stoneman Douglas, several reports have surfaced about Cruz’s mental condition. Several government agencies were warned about Cruz’s potential to be a school-shooter, but no action was taken.
Had laws such as the ones he is proposing been in place, Cruz wouldn’t have killed 17 students, Scott said, who named each of the victims to begin his press conference.
“If you look at it, a whole lot of individuals under my plan could have gotten a restraining order to stop it,” Scott said. “That would have been in the background check to prevent a (gun) sale to him.”
Students across the state walked out of classes at the same time that the survivors of the Parkland shooting were in the Capitol calling for legislation to abolish assault weapons.
In Leon County, school superintendent Rocky Hanna approved leave for students to join the protest downtown.
A day before the protest, the legislature voted down a measure to pass a bill. Several students who came to Tallahassee took time to lobby senators.
The students arrived Tuesday night and were greeted at Leon High School, where they were fed during a show of support for the protest.
The Stoneman Douglas students vowed to make their push for tighter gun laws a sustained effort. They plan to lead a march in Washington next month, while encouraging their peers to register to vote.
Saying she is “forever shattered” but now she is determined for answers, Stoneman Douglas student Tyra Herman questioned the motive of state senators who refused to support the gun bill that was voted down the day before their protest.
“Do you think guns are more important than me? Herman asked rhetorically. “I need them to explain to me why they think money is worth more than my life because last time I checked American lives; human lives are priceless.
“Marjory Stoneman Douglas is the last school shooting that is going to happen in American history. Mark my words.”
State representative Ramon Alexander (D-Tallahassee) was unequivocally in favor of outlawing the AR 15, the weapon that Cruz used. Alexander indicated that Scott’s proposal has his support and said the fight for improved school safety wasn’t over.
“We have other bills that could be on the table and I know the senate is looking at some recommendations and proposals as well,” Alexander said. “It is imperative that we have gun laws that are sensible gun laws. Military-style weapons should not be available to the general public.
“When you can purchase a gun like an AR-15 that can fire off 60-90 rounds in a minute and create devastating mass impact on people’s lives that makes no sense.”
Sheryl Acquarola, a survivor of the Parkland school shooting, screamed at the top of her lungs as she appealed to the U.S Congress to implement nationwide change.
“Those 17 people that we lost are not just a number,” she said. “They are people. How can you stand for the people and let your children get slaughtered like animals in their own school and every time we make a step forward you push us back.”
Florida house minority leader, Janet Cruz, who also favored the failed bill, was empathetic to the students’ stance.
Among the supporters of the students at the Capitol, was Brandon Wolf, a survivor of the Pulse nightclub shooting that took the lives of 49 people in June 2016.
“I pray you (legislators) look in the mirror and figure out your priorities, I pray you sign the no NRA money pledge,” Wolf said. “Should you continue to choose your wallets over our lives, I pray you enjoy retirement.”