Florida governor signs gun limits into law in surprise move

Republican Governor Rick Scott speaking in Tallahassee, Florida, last month. Mr Scott broke with the National Rifle Association on Friday to sign a law raising the minimum age and waiting period to purchase a gun in Florida.
Republican Governor Rick Scott speaking in Tallahassee, Florida, last month. Mr Scott broke with the National Rifle Association on Friday to sign a law raising the minimum age and waiting period to purchase a gun in Florida.PHOTO: NYTNS

MIAMI • In a dramatic turnaround in one of the most gun-friendly states in America, Republican Governor Rick Scott has signed into law an array of gun limits that include raising the minimum age to purchase a firearm to 21 and extending the waiting period to three days.

Friday's move was the most aggressive action on gun control taken in the state in decades and the first time Mr Scott, who had an A-plus rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA), had broken so significantly from the group.

The sweeping and bipartisan law is named after Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, where a former student, Nikolas Cruz, was charged with launching a massacre that left 17 dead on Feb 14.

The new legislation:

• imposes new restrictions on firearm purchases and the possession of "bump stocks",

• funds more school police officers and mental health services,

• broadens law enforcement's power to seize weapons, and

• allows certain staff members to carry guns in schools.

Swift action in the Republican-controlled statehouse, where the NRA has long held sway, was propelled in large part by an extraordinary lobbying campaign by young survivors of the massacre and parents of the victims.

Gun control advocates said the Parkland massacre and the response to it by Florida lawmakers signalled a likely turning point in the national debate over firearms safety and the right to bear arms as enshrined in the Second Amendment of the US Constitution.

"Today should serve as an example to the entire country that government can and must move fast," Mr Scott said in remarks before the signing, surrounded by survivors of the shooting and their families.

He said the Bill represented a compromise balancing concerns on both sides of the gun debate.

Florida's action gave hope to gun control proponents and sent the NRA scrambling to contain the damage. Within hours of Mr Scott signing the legislation, the NRA filed a lawsuit in the US District Court, arguing that Florida's age restriction was "a blanket ban" that violated the Second Amendment, as well as the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection.

The NRA asserted that the law was a particularly egregious violation of the rights of young women, who they contended "pose a relatively slight risk of perpetrating a school shooting such as the one that occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, or, for that matter, a violent crime of any kind".

Florida's embrace of gun restrictions came as Congress remains mired in partisan divisions on the issue and as other states, from Illinois to Vermont, consider whether they ought to tighten the rules on gun ownership in the wake of the Parkland attack.

But outside of Tallahassee, the law might not look that groundbreaking: It does not go as far as laws enacted by other more Democratic-leaning states after deadly shootings.

The law's passage came as a surprise to many in Florida, where lawmakers had failed to enact legislation after the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016, which left 49 dead, and the shooting at the Fort Lauderdale airport that killed five people last year.

The governor mentioned both massacres on Friday.

Mr Scott said he remained dissatisfied with the guardian provisions as adopted in the Bill, but signed it nonetheless, saying it would enhance school safety overall.

"I am glad, however, that the plan in this Bill is not mandatory, which means it will be up to locally elected officials," Scott said. "If counties don't want to do this, they can simply say no."

NYTIMES, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 11, 2018, with the headline 'Florida governor signs gun limits into law in surprise move'. Print Edition | Subscribe