Confusion in the Florida Senate as AR-15 ban fails to pass

Fla. Senate discuss school safety bill

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It appeared Florida's upper chamber had approved a ban on AR-15-style rifles Saturday, but a later roll call vote clarified that it did not have the votes to pass. After it appeared the two-year moratorium on the sale, delivery and transfer of AR-15-style rifles had passed by a voice vote, minutes later, that motion was reconsidered, and ultimately reversed by a roll call vote, with 17 votes in favor of the amendment and 21 against it. 

But for 15 minutes, as one Democratic aide pointed out, Florida looked like it just might have an AR-15 ban.

Democrats had introduced the two-year ban as an amendment to a broader GOP-led bill on gun reforms. The GOP bill imposes safeguards to keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill individuals who might harm themselves or others, and strengthen background checks at the point of sale, among other things. Students and others in Florida have called for stricter gun control measures, in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that left 17 dead last month. 

That battle over tougher gun measures is waging on in Capitol Hill, too, as Congress struggles to determine what it is the president wants. President Trump has said he wants stronger background checks, gun access restriction for the mentally ill and the ability to arm teachers. 

Mr. Trump also expressed an interest in raising the minimum age for purchasing some firearms to 21, saying Republicans are opposed to considering such a measure because they are "petrified of the NRA." But the day after Mr. Trump expressed an openness to gun restrictions in a bipartisan meeting with lawmakers, the president met with the NRA. NRA executive director Chris Cox tweeted Thursday night following that meeting that Mr. Trump will not pursue gun control. 

Florida's senators don't see eye to eye on gun control measures either. 

Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican, has pushed a bill to enhance criminal background checks, a bill requiring the FBI to tell states when someone fails a background check, a program for intervening when children are potential threats, and some form of temporary gun-violence restraining order. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, has pushed for a ban on assault-style rifles. 

Trump's shifting stance on gun reform bewilders lawmakers

On Saturday, lawmakers spent nearly eight hours debating dozens of amendments to the 100-page bill to strengthen school safety procedures and restrict gun purchases. They eventually approved the legislation for a final vote on Monday.

It was clear that senators were divided on the bill, and not just on party lines. While crafted by Republicans, some GOP senators still opposed it because they don't agree with raising the minimum age to purchase a rifle -- from 18 to 21 -- or requiring a waiting period to buy the weapons.

Democrats believe the legislation doesn't go far enough in some ways and too far in others. And while some oppose the bill, others believe it's at least a first step toward gun safety.

The bill includes provisions to boost school security, establish new mental health programs in schools, and improve communication between schools, law enforcement and state agencies. But much of the debate Saturday revolved around gun control and whether people should have a right to own an assault rifle.

"Every constitutional right that we hold dear has a limitation," said Democratic Sen. Gary Farmer. "These are just military-style killing machines and the right of self-defense and the ability to hunt will go on."

Republicans argued that banning such weapons would violate the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

"Our founding fathers weren't talking about hunting, and they weren't talking about protecting themselves from the thief down the street who might break in," said Republican Sen. David Simmons. Simmons said people need guns to protect themselves from a tyrannical government.

"Adolf Hitler confiscated all the weapons -- took all the weapons, had a registry of everybody -- and then on the night of June 30th, 1934, sent out his secret police and murdered all of his political opponents," Simmons said. "You think it doesn't happen in a free society? It does."

The Legislature wraps up its annual session on Friday. Lawmakers are scrambling to take some kind of action before then. The full House has yet to take up its version of the bill.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott has been lobbying lawmakers to pass his plan to assign at least one law-enforcement officer for every 1,000 students at a school. Scott is opposed to arming teachers.