Promising to spend half a billion dollars on school safety and mental health, Florida Gov. Rick Scott Friday vowed to make gun ownership and possession illegal for those under the age of 21 and to require law enforcement officers at every school.
But he quashed any suggestion of banning the types of weapon used in the most recent school shooting in Parkland, saying there are other ways to make it harder for someone like the school shooter to obtain and use such weapons.
“I want to make it virtually impossible for anyone who has mental illness issues to use a gun,” he said. “I want to make it virtually impossible for anyone who is a danger to themselves or others to use a gun.”
His news conference comes after droves of students from Parkland and across the state have held public demonstrations, school walkouts and meetings with lawmakers and leaders to push for greater school security. Many of the most vocal have been calling for bans or limits on assault weapons.
But Scott likened a ban on such weapons as “punishing law-abiding citizens” and said it wouldn’t fix the problem.
State leaders have taken criticism recently from school advocates, including several Duval County School Board members, for not providing enough school safety money for districts. Board chairwoman Paula Wright noted Thursday that the state’s $65 million safe schools funding for all 67 districts hasn’t increased in at least six years.
Scott said he wants to spend $450 million for school safety and $50 million on mental health services, while also requiring a law enforcement officer in every public school while students are on campus, with a minimum of at least one officer per every 1,000 students beginning with the start of the 2018 school year.
He’ll also require “school hardening” measures such as metal detectors, bullet-proof glass, steel doors and upgraded locks, with the Florida Department of Education applying minimum safety standards on schools by July 1.
Schools must spend capital outlay money on “school hardening” before it can be spent on other things, and schools must reach agreements with a sheriff’s department and other agencies to better coordinate prevention and intervention services. Each school must have a “threat assessment team” including a teacher, a law enforcement officer, a Department of Children and Families employee and a Department of Juvenile Justice employee meeting with the principal monthly to review potential threats.
Scott also vowed to fund mental health counselors for students.
“These counselors cannot serve dual roles, like teaching or academic advising,” he said. “Every student must have the opportunity to meet one-on-one with a mental health professional and receive ongoing counseling as needed.”
He’s against arming teachers, he said, opposing an idea that this week gained traction with President Donald Trump and several influential Florida lawmakers. Scott said the focus should instead be on law enforcement.
Schools would also be required to have active shooter training and code red drills, which are to be completed during the first week of each semester, he said. Most First Coast schools and districts already have the drills.
Scott said he also wants to toughen criminal laws against those who make school threats, a burgeoning issue plaguing districts in weeks following major school shootings. This week Duval County leaders said threats were made against at least 17 schools, while Clay County officials said there were at least a dozen threats this year.
“We will establish criminal penalties for threats to schools, like social media threats of shootings and bombings,” Scott said.
He is proposing law changes to allow courts to prohibit violent or mentally ill people from buying or possessing weapons when a family member, “community welfare expert” or law officer files a request or when that person is being treated under Florida’s Baker Act.
Congressman Bill Nelson, his opponent in the upcoming election, accused Scott of avoiding the things that would anger the gun lobby.
“Students, parents and teachers across our state are demanding action — but instead of listening to them, it’s clear the governor is once again choosing to listen only to the NRA, ” Nelson said. “The governor’s plan doesn’t do one thing to ensure comprehensive criminal background checks or ban assault rifles, like the AR-15. His leadership is weak and by recommending raising the age to 21 he is doing the bare minimum. Enough is enough. We need to get these assault rifles off our streets and expand criminal background checks for anyone acquiring a gun.”
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