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Florida Lawmakers Debate Gun Control

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Florida state lawmakers responded unusually quickly after the school shooting in Parkland last month. They unveiled a gun control and school safety bill just days before their legislative session ended. Now it looks like that proposal could be in trouble. Jessica Bakeman, from member station WLRN, reports from Florida's Capitol.

JESSICA BAKEMAN, BYLINE: Before Valentine's Day, Tallahassee was focused on tax cuts and charter schools. Then, almost 500 miles away in Parkland, a troubled 19-year-old stalked the halls of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School with an AR-15. Student survivors of the shooting and the families of the 17 victims demanded gun control loudly and brought their fight right to the lawmakers' Capitol offices.

(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: What do we want?

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Gun control.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: When do we want it?

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Now.

BAKEMAN: Within a couple of days, the Republican-led state legislature presented a way forward.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RICHARD CORCORAN: We put together, jointly with the Senate, a proposal that will ensure it never happens again.

BAKEMAN: That's Florida's conservative House speaker, Richard Corcoran. It was surprising to see the Republican leaders endorse restrictions on guns that are opposed by the National Rifle Association, whose influence over the conservative House is particularly formidable.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BILL GALVANO: We will increase the minimum age for purchasing a firearm to 21 years.

BAKEMAN: Republican Senator Bill Galvano.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GALVANO: We will establish a three-day waiting period for purchase of all firearms.

BAKEMAN: Then there's the provision that's reviled on the left, a plan for arming teachers. Here's Corcoran again.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CORCORAN: It's the first of its kind. And it is absolutely, in my opinion, the game changer.

BAKEMAN: Initially, Florida's legislative leaders felt sure they had enough support for the bill. But pushback has come from all sides. Republican Governor Rick Scott has maintained his opposition to arming teachers. So has the legislative Black Caucus, whose members are worried about children of color being disciplined more harshly than white students by a teacher with a gun. Then there are the most liberal Democrats who aren't going to be happy without a ban on assault weapons. Democratic Senator Perry Thurston.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PERRY THURSTON: Let's give the students their No. 1 request.

BAKEMAN: And, of course, there are the Second Amendment enthusiasts who say the bill goes way too far. The Senate held a rare Saturday session this weekend on the bill. This is Senate president Joe Negron.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE NEGRON: Have all senators voted? Lock the board. And announce the vote.

BAKEMAN: Republicans voted down dozens of amendments proposed by Democrats, including an assault weapons ban and a two-year moratorium on AR-15s.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Seventeen yeas, 21 nays, Mr. President.

NEGRON: The amendment is not adopted.

BAKEMAN: About halfway through, Negron asked for a moment of silence.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NEGRON: Today marks 17 days after those 17 fellow citizens lost their lives.

BAKEMAN: The Senate will vote Monday. If the bill passes, it'll have a harder time in the more conservative House. And Governor Rick Scott will have the final say. For NPR News, I'm Jessica Bakeman in Tallahassee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.