Thursday 24 May 2018

Florida gun control bill stops short of assault rifle ban

Nikolas Cruz is facing 17 charges of premeditated murder. Photo: Reuters
Nikolas Cruz is facing 17 charges of premeditated murder. Photo: Reuters

Emily Shugerman

Florida state legislators have passed the first gun control bill since the Parkland school shooting that killed 17 people last month, but failed to ban the assault-style rifles police say were used in the massacre.

The bill, called the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, raises the minimum age for buying assault rifles from 18 to 21, institutes a three-day waiting period for all firearm purchases, and bans so-called "bump stocks" that allow shooters to fire faster.

But it fails to address a major demand from Marjory Stoneman Douglas student activists, who have mobilised in favour of gun control since the shooting: a ban on military-style assault rifles like the one police say was used by shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz.

Parkland shooting survivors and gun control advocates say the semi-automatic weapons are too dangerous to be available to the public. The National Rifle Association, however, has strongly opposed such a ban, and critics say the language is too broad.

One senator, Democrat Oscar Braynon, suggested an amendment narrowing the ban exclusively to AR-15 rifles - the exact weapon used in the Parkland shooting, as well as mass shootings in Las Vegas and Newtown, Connecticut. His amendment failed to pass.

The bill also contains a controversial provision allowing some public school employees to carry weapons on campus - a policy championed by President Donald Trump. The bill creates a $67m (€54m) "marshall" programme to train and arm certain school employees to serve as "guardians".

Counsellors, coaches and librarians could be armed under the programme, but - contrary to Mr Trump's proposal - full-time teachers would not be eligible. The programme is voluntary, and applicants must pass a mental health screening and obtain a concealed carry permit.

Detractors have said arming employees is dangerous. Despite their misgivings, however, several Democrats said they voted in favour of the bill because of a letter issued by the families of all 17 shooting victims this week.

"You must act to prevent mass murder from ever occurring again at any school," the letter said. "This issue cannot wait. The moment to pass this bill is now."

The bill passed with 67 votes in support and 50 opposed, just hours after Mr Cruz was indicted on 17 counts of premeditated first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted first-degree murder.

The bill now goes to Governor Rick Scott to be signed into law.

After it passed, legislators stood to applaud Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow died in the shooting, and who sat through the debate and vote. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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