Gov. Rick Scott signs compromise gun control bill in wake of Florida school shooting

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida Gov. Rick Scott has signed a $400 million school safety bill passed by the Legislature in response to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last month that killed 17 people. The bill signed Friday falls short of what many of the shooting's survivors advocated for, but Scott, a Republican, said it balances "our individual rights with need for public safety."

It raises the minimum age to buy rifles from 18 to 21, extends a three-day waiting period for handgun purchases to include long guns and bans bump stocks that allow guns to mimic fully automatic fire. It also creates a so-called "guardian" program -- a controversial provision that enables teachers and other school employees to carry handguns. 

Scott signed the bill surrounded by family members of students killed in the shooting just over three weeks ago. 

"It's an example to the entire country that government can and has moved fast," he said. 

Student activists from the school, who followed the bill's progress closely, called it "a baby step." 

"Obviously, this is what we've been fighting for. It's nowhere near the long-term solution," said Chris Grady, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and one of the organizers of the March for Life later this month in Washington, D.C. "It's a baby step, but a huge step at the same time. Florida hasn't passed any legislation like this in God knows how long. It's nowhere near what we want, but it's progress and uplifting to see." 

Scott told the students: "You helped change our state. You made a difference. You should be proud." 

The bill marks Scott's break with the National Rifle Association, which opposes raising age limits to buy weapons or imposing new waiting periods. In a statement Thursday, NRA and Unified Sportsmen of Florida lobbyist Marion Hammer called the bill "a display of bullying and coercion" that would violate Second Amendment rights and punish law-abiding citizens.

Scott said he opted to sign the legislation because it makes schools safer. He singled out two fathers whose children were killed, saying that they walked the halls of the Legislature since the shooting to enact change. 

"I know the debate on all these issues will continue. And that's healthy in our democracy," he said. "This is a time for all of us to come together, roll up our sleeves and get it done." 

Audio reveals moments after gunman opened fire at Stoneman Douglas

The bill narrowly passed the Florida House and Senate.

It will also create new mental health programs for schools and establish an anonymous tip line where students and others could report threats. And it seeks to improve communication between schools, law enforcement and state agencies. 

The "guardian" program included in the bill would allow school staff with law enforcement training and school district approval to carry concealed handguns on campus, but it will be up to local officials to decide whether they want to participate.

But Scott said he is still "not persuaded" it's the right move. 

"I'm glad however, the plan in this bill is not mandatory," he said, adding that the guardian program will be up to local officials to implement. "If counties don't want to do this, they can simply say no." 

Broward County teachers union President Anna Fusco met with Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera and let him know that teachers support the school safety bill, but don't like the provision that allows school employees and some teachers to carry guns after receiving law enforcement training. She said she wants Gov. Rick Scott to veto the money for the so-called guardian program when he receives the budget. Scott can't veto individual items in the bill itself, but does have line-item veto power with the budget.

"We support the bill," Fusco said. "I know there's lots of things in there that are a start, and there's a lot in there that's going to bring some pieces back together for Parkland. But there's a piece in there that we're concerned about -- arming educators in schools."

The Broward County school superintendent has already said he doesn't want to participate in the guardian program.

Meanwhile, the shooting suspect, Nikolas Cruz, remains jailed without bond. Cruz made his first court appearance on 17 charges of first-degree attempted murder Friday. The 19-year-old accused of opening fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was already being held without bond on 17 charges of murder. 

In the brief hearing Friday, Cruz stood with his head bowed as he appeared via video conference. Cruz's lawyer withdrew an initial not guilty plea, leaving him to "stand mute" for now, but has said he will plead guilty if prosecutors take the death penalty off the table and sentence him to life in prison instead. Prosecutors have not announced a decision. 

The massacre is the deadliest school shooting to occur in the U.S. since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, five years ago.  


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