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As NRA increases pressure, Florida Senate postpones debate on gun bill

As the Senate planned to take the measure up Friday afternoon, dozens of amendments prepared by Democrats appeared to be gaining support. Senate leaders told the Times/Herald they decided to call the bill back and revise it, rather than push through last minute changes.
Marion Hammer, seen here in 2015 talking to Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakelan
Marion Hammer, seen here in 2015 talking to Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakelan
Published Mar. 2, 2018
Updated Mar. 2, 2018

With the National Rifle Association increasing its pressure, Florida Senate leaders postponed for one day a vote on the school safety package that includes provisions to arm teachers, strengthen school security, provide more funds for mental health counselors and raise the age on access to an assault rifle in Florida.

The measure is intended to respond to the Feb. 14 Parkland shootings but is firmly opposed by the gun lobby because it raises the age from 18 to 21 to buy any gun and imposes a three-day waiting period on all gun purchases. Another provision, to allow trained teachers to be deputized by law enforcement and carry concealed weapons in the classroom, is also opposed by Gov. Rick Scott.

As the Senate planned to take the measure up Friday afternoon, dozens of amendments prepared by Democrats appeared to be gaining support. Senate leaders told the Times/Herald they decided to call the bill back and revise it, rather than push through last-minute changes.

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"There is not a big, substantial issue that has clogged this thing up," said Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, who is shepherding the measure through the chambers. "We will be making bad policy if we approve all these things."

He added: "It was too much, too quick."

The result will be the Senate's conducting a rare Saturday session. Galvano said the delay will also give the Senate time to "line up" its bill with a plan that could be passed by the House without revisions. The NRA's influence is strongest in the House, where members have smaller districts and  Republicans are more fearful of going against the politically active voters who oppose any gun limits.

Senate Republican Leader Wilton Simpson of Trilby said that the Senate has the votes to pass the bill, including the proposal to allow sheriffs and school boards to decide whether to train teachers as school marshals, who will carry the concealed weapons in classrooms.

"There's nothing in our bill that says you're going to arm teachers," Simpson said, expressing frustration that the focus from opponents has distorted the concept.

The governor "understands the 'marshal program' that has been proposed," Galvano said. "What his concern is, it's that the messaging side of it is hard to explain and the message has been lost. Once you walk through all the elements, the training, then people understand it."

Galvano said the plan will be for the Senate to take up the bill Saturday, then vote it out of the full chamber on Monday and send it to the House.

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