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Anquished Parents Plead for School Safety

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Posted: Friday, March 2, 2018 10:42 am

By Dara Kam

News Service of Florida

After hearing the impassioned pleas of parents whose children were murdered, key legislative panels Tuesday approved sweeping school-safety measures that would allow

specially trained teachers to bring guns to class, raise the age from 18 to 21 to purchase rifles or other long guns and create a commission to explore failures leading up to the massacre this month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

About 40 parents from Parkland, the affluent Broward County enclave where the nation’s second-worst school shooting occurred Feb. 14,

traveled to the Capitol to share their stories and requests with lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott as the Legislature rushes to pass a school-safety bill before the annual session ends on March 9.

Max Schachter, whose 14-year-old son Alex was among 17 people slain at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, strained to choke back tears as he begged lawmakers to act.

“I’ve never been an outspoken person. I never wanted to be in this situation. But I’m pleading with you to put your differences aside. It’s time to learn to compromise and help make our schools safe again,” Schachter, comforted by his father, Steve, told the House Appropriations Committee.

The legislation approved Tuesday by House and Senate appropriations committees includes money for early mental health screening and services as well as additional school resource officers, raises the required age from 18 to 21 and imposes a three-day waiting period to purchase long guns, and would give law enforcement officials the ability to remove guns from people who pose a danger to themselves or others.

“The components of the bill would have saved my little boy Alex, and if we had had these measures in place I would not have had to bury my son next to his mother,” Schachter told the committees. “I’m willing to compromise. Are you?”

Schachter’s testimony reduced Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, to tears.

Critics of the legislation, including a union representing teachers and many Democrats, say it doesn’t go far enough because it lacks a prohibition on assault-style guns like the one used by 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz to mow down 14 students and three faculty members at the Parkland school.

The measures would allow law enforcement officers to seize guns from the homes of people who are being involuntarily committed for mental health treatment under the Baker Act, or to seek a “risk protection” order from courts that would allow authorities to remove guns from people who are a potential danger to themselves or others and who have made a “credible threat of violence” against another person.

The proposals also contain $1 million for a memorial dedicated to the 17 victims of the mass shooting, nearly $30 million to raze and rebuild the freshman building where the shooting took place, and money --- $100 million in the Senate plan, and $67 million in the House measure --- to fund school districts’ mental health screening and services programs. Also, the plans would create an “Office of Safe Schools” within the state Department of Education.

In an election year, the legislation pits Republicans, who dominate both chambers in the Legislature, against the NRA and Hammer, who for years have used Florida as a model state for Second Amendment legislation. Democrats also could be at risk for failing to vote against proposals that do not include a ban on assault weapons.

“The entire world is begging you to stand up and fix this problem, like we tell our children don’t be bullied into doing what everybody else is doing or wants you to do,” a sobbing Parkland parent Randi Weisselberg told the House committee.

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