TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Families of the 17 Florida high school massacre victims called on the state’s Legislature Monday to pass a bill they believe will improve school security.
Reading a statement outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County, Ryan Petty implored legislators to pass Gov. Rick Scott’s proposal to add armed security guards, keep guns away from the mentally ill and improve mental health programs for at-risk teens.
“We must be the last families to lose loved ones in a mass shooting at a school. This time must be different and we demand action,” said Petty, reading from the group statement.
Petty’s 14-year-old daughter, Alaina, was killed in the Feb 14 shooting, along with 13 schoolmates and three staff members.
Scott’s proposal and the House and Senate bills have significant differences. Scott wants to put more sheriff’s deputies in schools. Legislators’ bills would allow trained teachers to carry concealed weapons, which Scott opposes. Scott’s plan also goes significantly further in preventing people who show signs of violent behaviour or mental illnesses to obtain guns.
The Florida Senate is expected to vote on its version of the school safety bill Monday. Senators began debating the 100-page bill about 3:15 p.m. in a discussion that could take hours.
The Senate amended its bill to limit which teachers could volunteer to go through law enforcement training and carry guns in schools. Any teacher who does nothing but work in a classroom would not be eligible for the program, but teachers who perform other duties, such as serving as a coach, and other school employees could still participate. Other exceptions would be made for teachers who are current or former law enforcement officers, members of the military or who teach in a Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps program.
The amendment also names the program for slain assistant football coach Aaron Feis, who has been hailed as a hero for shielding students during the school attack. The 37-year-old graduated from Stoneman Douglas in 1999 and worked mainly with the junior varsity, living in nearby Coral Springs with his wife and daughter. Republican Sen. Bill Galvano said he asked for and received the approval of Feis’ family before proposing the amendment.
Although lawmakers are proposing language to prevent people showing signs of violence or mental illness from having guns, Scott’s proposal would let relatives and roommates petition courts to bar potentially dangerous people from having guns; lawmakers’ proposals would not.
Ultimately, lawmakers and not Scott will decide what the legislation looks like before the annual legislative session ends Friday, but Scott could veto a bill and call lawmakers back to a special session to address the issue.
Lori Alhadeff, whose 14-year-old daughter, Alyssa, died in the massacre, said the state and federal governments need to be willing to spend money “to make our schools safe again.”
The guns are “an issue for another day,” said her husband, Ilan Alhadeff. He said the governor’s proposal should be something everyone agrees with.
“Let’s be one nation. Let’s rally together and protect our kids. Protect our schools,” Alhadeff said. Referring to the shooting, he said in a breaking voice, “No parent should have to deal with this again. No family should have to deal with this again.”
Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime died in the massacre, said “every day feels like a broken day in my house now because she is no longer with us. The idea that we have to stand here today to make it clear to the legislators in Tallahassee after an incident like this, our unity is unfortunate, but we are unified.”
He said the group is supporting Scott’s plan because “it is the minimally acceptable effort that can get passed in Florida. Right now, it is just the way it is.”
Max Schachter, whose 14-year-old son, Alex, died in the shooting, said the FBI, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office and the state Legislature, “all failed me, all failed my son, they failed all 16 of these families,” by not preventing the massacre. He said he and others met with 25 police chiefs and law enforcement experts from across the country Monday and they unanimously agreed that arming teachers and staff is a bad idea.