The Florida Senate spent Saturday working on gun legislation that won't include many of the demands put out by gun control activists, including the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting survivors who have demanded Tallahassee take action. Briefly, though, the Florida Senate seemed to pass an assault weapons ban, one of the many amendments that Democrats pushed to have added to the bill. Not 15 minutes later, the chamber voted down the measure on a roll call vote.
That seemingly epic flip-flop was on an amendment put forward by Democrats that would have implemented a moratorium on the sale of AR-15 assault rifles for two years. That's the gun that was used in the Parkland, Florida, school shooting that killed 17 people on Valentine's Day.
Florida Senate President Joe Negron, a Republican, first held a voice vote (the senators shout "yea" or "nay") and announced that the amendment passed. But then it was recorded with a roll call vote, and it failed 21-17. Democrats and two Republicans voted for it, but they were outvoted.
Republicans also defeated other measures that survivors of the Florida shooting have called for. Among the defeated proposals were creating a gun registry, prohibiting high-capacity magazines, and bolstering background checks for out-of-state sales.
Some of the teenagers that have organized the Never Again movement and the upcoming March for Our Lives were in Tallahassee last month demanding such policy changes. Republicans in the Senate ultimately went with other ideas, including the arming of teachers.
Most of the bill centers around school safety rather than gun control. In addition to allocating money for the training and arming of teachers, the bill provides money for mental health programs in the schools and calls for the creation of an application that would let students and teachers share tips on suspicious activity with law enforcement.
Several significant gun control measures were included in SB 7026, however. The minimum age of purchase for a rifle is raised to 21 in the bill, bump stocks are banned, and the current three-day waiting period for handguns is expanded to all firearm purchases.
Due to those aspects, the NRA was against the proposal. The state's NRA office sent its members a message to try to build opposition to the bill. "Senators are being bullied into voting for gratuitous gun control measures in order to be able to vote on school safety," the NRA's message said. "Senate leadership is trying to force Senators to vote for gun control if they want to vote to harden schools, to put armed security in schools and to keep guns out of the hands of dangerously mentally ill people."
Democrats advocated for more to be done, particularly the banning of assault weapons. "Every constitutional right that we hold dear has a limitation," Democratic Sen. Gary Farmer said. "These are just military-style killing machines and the right of self-defense and the ability to hunt will go on."
Their calls fell on deaf ears, however. One Republican senator compared the bill to Hitler's confiscation of guns before World War II and his murdering of political opponents. "You think it doesn't happen in a free society? It does," said Republican Sen. David Simmons, who argued that society needs guns to protect itself from government.
Another Republican colleague made the often-belittled thoughts and prayers argument. "The one thing that will actually change this the most is the one thing that has become fighting words — and that is to say we need thoughts and prayers," Sen. Kelli Stargel said.
The impassioned debate from both sides and the entire Saturday spent working on the bill show that preventing future school shootings is a priority to Florida's senators. Just don't expect an assault weapons ban while Republicans control the votes — at least for more than 15 minutes.