Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a far-reaching school-safety bill Friday that places new restrictions on guns, cementing his state’s break with the National Rifle Association and decades of Republican thinking on gun control in the aftermath of the Parkland high school attack.
Surrounded by family members of students killed in the shooting just over three weeks ago, the GOP governor said the bill balances “our individual rights with need for public safety.”
“It’s an example to the entire country that government can and has moved fast,” said Scott, whose state has been ruled for 20 years by Republican lawmakers who are friendly to gun owners.
Tony Montalto, whose daughter Gina was killed in the attack, read a statement from victims’ families: “When it comes to preventing future acts of horrific school violence, this is the beginning of the journey. We have paid a terrible price for this progress.”
The bill is less than what many survivors had sought. 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, which allow guns to mimic fully automatic fire.
It also creates a so-called guardian program that enables some teachers and other school employees to carry guns.
An NRA lobbyist has called the bill “a display of bullying and coercion” that violates the Second Amendment and punishes law-abiding citizens.
Scott said he is still “not persuaded” about the guardian program under which participating districts can authorize staff members to carry handguns if they complete law enforcement training. It is not mandatory.
“If counties don’t want to do this, they can simply say no,” he said.
Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow died, made his own comments to reporters while standing with his teenage son Hunter.
“I wish I could tell you that I’m happy. But how could we be happy? We buried a sister, and I buried my daughter,” Pollack said. “To me, this is a start for us.”
Hunter added, “Let’s get the rest of the country to follow our lead and let’s make schools safe. Let’s harden the schools and make sure this never happens again.”
The governor said he signed the legislation to make schools safer. He singled out two fathers whose children were killed, saying that they walked the halls of the Legislature since the shooting seeking 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.”
Student activists from the school where the shooting took place, 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. “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.”
Scott told the students: “You helped change our state. You made a difference. You should be proud.”
The bill narrowly passed the House and Senate, which formally delivered the reform package on Thursday.
In schools, the measure also creates new mental health programs and establishes an anonymous tip line for reporting threats. It also seeks to improve communication between schools, law enforcement and state agencies.
The NRA opposes raising age limits to buy weapons or imposing new waiting periods.
Broward County teachers union President Anna Fusco said teachers supported the bill but not the provision that allows them to carry guns.
She said she wants Scott to veto the money for the guardian program when he receives the budget. The governor cannot veto individual items in the bill itself, but he does have line-item veto power with the budget.
The Broward County school superintendent has already said he does not want to participate in the program.
Meanwhile, the 19-year-old former student accused of opening fire at the school made his initial appearance before a judge. Nikolas Cruz faces 17 counts of murder and attempted murder. In the brief hearing Friday, Cruz stood with his head bowed as he appeared via video conference.
Cruz’s public defender 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.
Associated Press writers Jason Dearen in Gainesville, Tamara Lush in St. Petersburg, and Terry Spencer, Jennifer Kay and Adriana Gomez Licon in Miami contributed to this report.
Follow the AP’s complete coverage of the Florida school shooting here: https://apnews.com/tag/Floridaschoolshooting .