Parkland parents urge lawmakers to go forward with school safety reforms

They come from different politics and perspectives though now they are united as parents all living the same profound loss.

 “What do we do know? We need to make schools safe again,” Lori Alhadeff, whose 14-year-old daughter, Alyssa, was among the 17 people killed in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14.

These parents are now activists. On Monday, they called on the Florida Senate and House to support Gov. Rick Scott’s plan for school security and mental health initiatives.

Scott has proposed a number of changes to the state’s gun laws in response to the deaths in Parkland. Scott wants to increase the age requirement to buy weapons like the AR-15 rifle used by Parkland gunman 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz from 18 to 21.

“We hope the Legislature can push forward and give him something he can sign into law that will make our children safer,” said Tony Montalto whose daughter Gina, 14, died in the shooting.

Scott also supports banning bump stocks, equipment that make semi-automatic rifles fire faster. Although bump stocks weren’t a factor in the Parkland shooting; the equipment was used in a mass shooting in Las Vegas in October that killed more than 50 people.

Many Parkland students and parents have strongly pressed state lawmakers to ban semi-automatic weapons including the AR-15 rifle. Repeated attempts to pass such a ban have failed in the both the Florida House and Senate in recent weeks.

Meanwhile, the National Rifle Association and other pro-gun lawmakers, including President Donald Trump, have proposed arming educators as a way to deter mass shootings at schools. Florida lawmakers have since added a voluntary “school marshal” program to the slate of gun reform and school safely measures.

One parent, Andrew Pollack, whose 18-year-old daughter, Meadow, was one of the victims, has been outspoken supporter of the marshal program.

A vote Wednesday in the Florida Senate scaled back the program to arm school staff, but not classroom teachers.

However, Scott opposes the school marshal program along with the state’s teachers unions and other Parkland parents and students.

While many Parkland parents disagree with the concept of introducing more weapons into schools, some worry the other changes, which they do support, will not move forward without the marshal program.

Max Schachter, the father of 14-year-old victim Alex Schachter, organized a commission to learn best practices for safe schools. The group met with safety experts from around the country for the first time Monday.

“I said, ‘Is the solution to put more guns in the hands of teachers?’ Everyone said no. Not a single expert says that was a good idea,” Schachter said.

That controversial component of the state House and Senate bills was the focus of a roundtable discussion held by U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz, a Weston Democrat, on Wednesday.

“Legislators are advocating this arming teachers proposal can say whatever they want about it being voluntary,” Wasserman Shultz said. “In my experience, eventually some pro-gun legislator in (Tallahassee) will decide that enough school boards didn’t pass this arming teachers program, and they’ll step up and make legislation to make it mandatory.”

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Florida lawmakers spar over plan to arm teachers in the classroom

In the wake of the Stoneman Douglas massacre, the Florida senate will vote on a school safety bill on Monday.Senators hammered out the legislation during a rare special session in Tallahassee Saturday. The proposed legislation would raise the mini…

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Bill restricting gun purchases goes to Florida Senate

The Florida Senate agreed to advance a bill that would increase school safety and restrict gun purchases during a rare weekend session that often turned into a debate on gun control and arming teachers in the aftermath of last month’s Parkland school shootings.

The Senate spent nearly eight hours on Saturday debating dozens of amendments to the 100-page bill before finally approving the legislation for a final vote on Monday. Democratic proposals to ban assault rifles and large-capacity magazines were rejected, as was a Democratic proposal to strip language from the bill that would create a program to arm teachers who have gone through law-enforcement training if school districts choose to take part in the so-called marshal plan.

The Senate began the session at 10 a.m. and was originally supposed to wrap up discussion by 1 p.m. But senators extended the session and didn’t wrap up until after 6 p.m.

It was clear that senators were divided on the bill, and not just on party lines. While crafted by Republicans, some GOP senators still opposed it because they don’t agree with raising the minimum age to guy a rifle from 18 to 21 or requiring a waiting period to buy the weapons.

Democrats believe the legislation doesn’t go far enough in some ways and too far in others. And while some oppose the bill, others believe it’s at least a first step toward gun safety.

Democrats want to ban weapons such as the AR-15 assault-style rifle, which was used to kill 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14. Many also oppose arming teachers. The bill also includes provisions to boost school security, establish new mental health programs in schools, and improve communication between schools, law enforcement and state agencies.

But much of the debate Saturday revolved around gun control and whether people should have a right to own an assault rifle.

“Every constitutional right that we hold dear has a limitation,” said Democratic Sen. Gary Farmer. “These are just military-style killing machines and the right of self-defense and the ability to hunt will go on.”

Republicans argued that banning such weapons would violate the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

“Our founding fathers weren’t talking about hunting, and they weren’t talking about protecting themselves from the thief down the street who might break in,” said Republican Sen. David Simmons. Simmons said people need guns to protect themselves from a tyrannical government.

“Adolf Hitler confiscated all the weapons – took all the weapons, had a registry of everybody – and then on the night of June 30th, 1934, sent out his secret police and murdered all of his political opponents,” Simmons said. “You think it doesn’t happen in a free society? It does.”

The Legislature wraps up its annual session on Friday. Lawmakers are scrambling to take some kind of action before then. The full House has yet to take up its version of the bill.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott has been lobbying lawmakers to pass his plan to assign at least one law-enforcement officer for every 1,000 students at a school. Scott is opposed to arming teachers.

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Woman wins Keys conch blowing contest, marriage proposal

A Florida retiree won the women’s division victory in Key West’s annual Conch Shell Blowing Contest — and a marriage proposal from a fellow competitor.

Mary Lou Smith impressed the judges Saturday with long blasts on the fluted, pink-lined shell which she followed with a joyous, accepting duet with Rick Race after his onstage proposal.

Other winners included Florida Keys resident Vinnie Marturano, who blew three-toned blasts and a song fragment.

Judges evaluated entrants from children to seniors on the quality, novelty, duration and loudness of sounds they produced.

Conch shells have been used as signaling devices in the Florida Keys for centuries. Native-born islanders are called Conchs, and the Keys are nicknamed the Conch Republic.

The contest was conceived by the Old Island Restoration Foundation.
 

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Florida lawmakers debate school-safety bill in rare session

The Florida Senate agreed to advance a bill that would increase school safety and restrict gun purchases during a rare Saturday session that often turned into a debate on gun control and arming teachers in the aftermath of last month’s Parkland school shootings.

The Senate spent nearly eight hours debating dozens of amendments to the 100-page bill before finally approving the legislation for a final vote on Monday. Democratic proposals to ban assault rifles and large-capacity magazines were rejected, as was a Democratic proposal to strip language from the bill that would create a program to arm teachers who have gone through law-enforcement training if school districts choose to take part in the so-called marshal plan.

The Senate began the session at 10 a.m. and was originally supposed to wrap up discussion by 1 p.m. But senators extended the session and didn’t wrap up until after 6 p.m.

It was clear that senators were divided on the bill, and not just on party lines. While crafted by Republicans, some GOP senators still opposed it because they don’t agree with raising the minimum age to guy a rifle from 18 to 21 or requiring a waiting period to buy the weapons.

Democrats believe the legislation doesn’t go far enough in some ways and too far in others. And while some oppose the bill, others believe it’s at least a first step toward gun safety.

Democrats want to ban weapons such as the AR-15 assault-style rifle, which was used to kill 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14. Many also oppose arming teachers. The bill also includes provisions to boost school security, establish new mental health programs in schools, and improve communication between schools, law enforcement and state agencies.

But much of the debate Saturday revolved around gun control and whether people should have a right to own an assault rifle.

“Every constitutional right that we hold dear has a limitation,” said Democratic Sen. Gary Farmer. “These are just military-style killing machines and the right of self-defense and the ability to hunt will go on.”

Republicans argued that banning such weapons would violate the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

“Our founding fathers weren’t talking about hunting, and they weren’t talking about protecting themselves from the thief down the street who might break in,” said Republican Sen. David Simmons. Simmons said people need guns to protect themselves from a tyrannical government.

“Adolf Hitler confiscated all the weapons – took all the weapons, had a registry of everybody – and then on the night of June 30th, 1934, sent out his secret police and murdered all of his political opponents,” Simmons said. “You think it doesn’t happen in a free society? It does.”

The Legislature wraps up its annual session on Friday. Lawmakers are scrambling to take some kind of action before then. The full House has yet to take up its version of the bill.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott has been lobbying lawmakers to pass his plan to assign at least one law-enforcement officer for every 1,000 students at a school. Scott is opposed to arming teachers.

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Nikolas Cruz’s brother regrets bullying alleged school shooter, police report says

The younger brother of the man who allegedly killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High school told investigators that he bullied his sibling when they were younger, according to a sheriff’s report.

Zachary Cruz said two days after the massacre that he felt guilty about the incident and thought he possibly could have prevented it, a Palm Beach County detective wrote in the report.

Cruz, who has turned 18 since the shooting, told the investigators from Palm Beach and Broward counties that he and his friends had bullied Nikolas Cruz, something Zachary “now regrets ever doing,” according to the report.

Zachary wishes that he had been nicer to his brother, the detective wrote. Zachary Cruz also may have had some resentment because Nikolas Cruz may have been the “favored brother,” the report said.

Nikolas Cruz allegedly used a semiautomatic rifle to kill 14 students and three teachers on February 14 at Stoneman Douglas in Parkland, Florida. The shooting spurred a national debate over gun laws.

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