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New gun bill now state law

Rick Patrick: Greene Publishing, Inc.

Florida Governor Rick Scott is experiencing again the notion that one can't please all the people all the time. Scarcely before the ink dried after signing the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act into law on Friday, March 9, the National Rifle Association (NRA) filed suit to halt the law's implementation.

According to a press release from Florida Senate President, Joe Negron (R-Stuart), “The legislation represents a comprehensive approach to addressing the issues presented by the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fl., including firearm and school safety, and community mental health resources.”

“I am pleased to see this comprehensive public safety legislation become law today. The Florida Legislature and Governor Scott worked diligently in the days following this horrific shooting to seek input from survivors and their families, as well as concerned citizens across the state,” said Negron. “We can never replace the 17 lives lost at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, but in their memory, we can, and through this legislation, we will do more to prevent a senseless tragedy like this from ever happening again.”

A summary of the 105-page bill can be broken down into five areas. Among these are: mental health, firearm safety, school safety, additional items and, of course, funding for the implementation of the bill.

In the area of mental health, the legislation makes significant changes to keep firearms out of the hands of those suffering from mental illness:

Authorizes a law enforcement officer who is taking a person into custody for an involuntary examination under the Baker Act to seize and hold a firearm or ammunition from the person for 24 hours after the person is released and does not have a risk protection order against them or is the subject of a firearm disability.

Prohibits a person who has been adjudicated mentally defective or who has been committed to a mental institution from owning or possessing a firearm until a court orders otherwise.

Creates a process for a law enforcement officer or law enforcement agency to petition a court for a risk protection order to temporarily prevent persons who are at high risk of harming themselves or others from accessing firearms when a person poses a significant danger to himself or herself or others, including significant danger as a result of a mental health crisis or violent behavior. The bill also:

Allows a court to issue a risk protection order for up to 12 months.

Requires the surrender of all firearms and ammunition if a risk protection order is issued.

Provides a process for a risk protection order to be vacated or extended.

The legislation also provides new provisions to ensure full and complete background checks when a firearm is purchased:

Requires a three-day waiting period for all firearms, not just handguns or until the background check is completed, whichever is later. Provides exceptions for:

Concealed weapons permit holders, and

For the purchase of firearms other than handguns, an exception for:

Individuals who have completed a 16 hour hunter safety course;

Individuals holding a valid Florida hunting license; or

Law enforcement officers, correctional officers and service members (military and national guard).

The bill addresses two of the most frequent requests Senators heard from the families of victims simply to raise the age for purchasing a firearm and ban devices that turn a legal firearm into an illegal weapon.

Prohibits a person under 21 years of age from purchasing a firearm, and prohibits licensed firearm dealers, importers, and manufacturers, from selling a firearm, except in the case of a member of the military, or a law enforcement or correctional officer when purchasing a rifle or shotgun. (Persons under 21 years of age are already prohibited from purchasing a handgun under federal law.)

Prohibits a bump-fire stock from being imported, transferred, distributed, sold, keeping for sale, offering for sale, possessing, or giving away within the state.

The bill addresses school safety through the following provisions:

Establishes the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission to investigate system failures in the Parkland school shooting and prior mass violence incidents, and develop recommendations for system improvements.

Codifies the Office of Safe Schools within the Florida Department of Education (DOE) and which will serve as a central repository for the best practices, training standards, and compliance regarding school safety and security.

Permits a sheriff to establish a Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program.

The legislation allows school districts to decide whether to participate in the guardian program if it is available in their county.

A guardian must complete 132 hours of comprehensive firearm safety and proficiency training, pass a psychological evaluation, submit to and pass drug tests; and complete certified diversity training. The guardian program is named after Coach Aaron Feis, who lost his life protecting students during the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The guardian program is completely voluntary for a sheriff to establish, for a school district to participate, and for an individual to volunteer.

Individuals who exclusively perform classroom duties as classroom teachers are excluded from participating in a Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program. However, this limitation does not apply to classroom teachers of a Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program; a current service member; and a current or former law enforcement officer.

Requires each district school board and school district superintendent to cooperate with law enforcement agencies to assign one or more safe-school officers at each school facility. The safe-school officer requirement can be satisfied by appointing any combination of a school resource officer, a school safety officer, or a school guardian.

Requires each district school board to designate a district school safety specialist to serve as the district’s primary point of public contact for public school safety functions.

Requires each school district to designate school safety specialists and a threat assessment team at each school, and requires the team to operate under the district school safety specialist’s direction.

Requires the DOE to contract for the development of a Florida Safe Schools Assessment Tool which will assist school districts in conducting security assessments to identify threats and vulnerabilities.

Creates the mental health assistance allocation to assist school districts in establishing or expanding school-based mental health care.

Additionally, the legislation:

Prohibits a person from making, posting, or transmitting a threat to conduct a mass shooting or an act of terrorism.

Requires DCF to contract for community action treatment teams to provide behavioral health and support services.

Requires FDLE to procure a mobile app that would allow students and the community to relay information anonymously concerning unsafe, dangerous threats. The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglass recommended that the program be named “FortifyFL.”

The legislature appropriated $400 million in order to implement the bill's provisions. This includes:

Over $69 million to the DOE to fund the mental health assistance allocation.

$1 million for the design and construction of a memorial honoring those who lost their lives on February 14, 2018, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Over $25 million for replacing building 12 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Over $67 million for sheriff’s offices who decide to establish a school guardian program.

Over $97 million to aid for the safe schools allocation.

Over $98 million to implement a grant program for improving and hardening the physical security of school buildings.

$18.3 million to DCF for additional mobile crisis teams to ensure reasonable access among all counties.

The NRA immediately took exception to certain parts of the legislation, namely the raising of the legal age for purchasing firearms from 18 to 21 years of age. In a statement released by the NRA, the gun-rights organization stated, “The National Rifle Association has always supported measures to increase school security, fix our broken mental health system and keep firearms out of the hands of those with a dangerous mental illness. However, several provisions contained in SB 7026 will do nothing to increase public safety and will only impact law-abiding citizens. Preventing a responsible 20-year-old from purchasing the best tool for self-defense will not stop a deranged criminal intent on committing a crime. Imposing a 3-day wait period on rifle and shotgun purchases would not have stopped any of the high-profile mass shootings in recent years.”

As soon as Gov. Scott signed the legislation into law, the NRA filed suit in US District Court. The NRA lawsuit named Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen as Defendants, and seeks “declaratory and injunctive relief: a declaration that Florida's law banning adult, law-abiding citizens under the age of 21 from purchasing firearms of any kind is unconstitutional under the Second and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and an injunction compelling the Defendants from enforcing that invalid ban and to allow Plaintiff's members to purchase firearms to defend themselves, their families, and their homes.”

State Senator Bill Montford voted in favor of the legislation. Representative Halsey Beshears initially voted against the House version of the legislation but voted in favor of the legislation upon the third reading of the legislation.

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