Florida state Senate votes against arming most classroom teachers

The minimum age for handguns nationally is already 21. But a person can be as young as 18 to buy a rifle in Florida, with no waiting period.

A general view of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as staff and teachers prepared for the return of students in Parkland, Florida on 27 February 2018. Picture: AFP

PARKLAND, Florida – Florida’s Republican-controlled Senate voted on Monday to exclude most classroom teachers from a plan to allow school staff to carry firearms as part of a package of measures in response to a school shooting that took 17 lives last month.

The amendment was designed in part to increase support from many parents, law enforcement officials and legislators in both parties who object to arming teachers, as well as from Governor Rick Scott, a Republican also on record as opposed to the idea.

The exclusion was adopted by voice vote as part of a package of legislation the Senate passed a short time later, 20-18, to raise the minimum legal age for buying all guns in Florida to 21 and impose a three-day waiting period for any gun purchase.

The minimum age for handguns nationally is already 21. But a person can be as young as 18 to buy a rifle in Florida, with no waiting period.

Authorities say the man charged with killing 14 students and three adult educators at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last month in Parkland, Florida, was 18 when he legally purchased the semiautomatic AR-15-style assault rifle used in the massacre.

The Senate-passed bill represents a break with the National Rifle Association gun rights lobby, which has resisted proposals to raise age limits or impose new waiting limits.

The bill now moves to Florida’s Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where a committee approved similar legislation last week. There was no immediate word from the governor’s office on whether he would support the bill passed by the Senate.

The Florida Senate over the weekend rejected an amendment to ban assault weapons.

As passed, the Senate bill echoes many of the proposals endorsed by Scott after the 14 February massacre, including new powers for police to temporarily seize guns from people involuntarily committed or deemed a danger to themselves or others by a court.

It also allows police to petition a court for a “risk-protection” order barring an individual from possessing firearms if that person is judged as dangerous because of a mental illness or violent behaviour.

Authorities have said the accused Parkland gunman, Nikolas Cruz, had a history of mental issues, numerous encounters with local police and was expelled from the high school last year for unspecified disciplinary problems. Federal and local law enforcement have also acknowledged receiving multiple warnings about his potential for violence before the shooting.


The House bill includes a measure allowing local sheriffs offices to create voluntary programs to designating school personnel as armed “marshals,” subject to school district approval and special training. US President Donald Trump has voiced support for such a plan, also advocated by the NRA.

As amended by the Senate, classroom teachers would be excluded from such a program unless they are part of the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program, or are members of the US military or former police officers.

The bill also provides nearly $400 million to pay for various school safety and mental health initiatives.

A group of parents from Stoneman Douglas High held a news conference outside the school on Monday urging legislators to enact meaningful legislation in time for adjournment on Friday.

Max Schachter, whose son was among those killed in Parkland, said parents hosted a meeting of 25 law enforcement officials and other experts from across the country to discuss school safety, and all opposed arming teachers.

“Not a single expert said that was a good idea,” Schachter said.