Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) defied his longtime allies at the National Rifle Association on Friday to sign into law a new set of gun regulations, more than three weeks after a school shooting claimed 17 lives in his state.
“I am going to do what I think are common-sense solutions,” Scott said after the signing. “I think this is the beginning. There is now going to be a real conversation about how we make our schools safe.”
The law, passed by Republican legislative leaders and a number of Democrats, marks a major shift for a state known as a laboratory for gun rights legislation, including legal protections for people who use guns in self-defense and an expansive concealed-carry law.
It comes as federal efforts to address the Feb. 14 slayings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have sputtered, despite calls from President Trump for bipartisan action. The Senate has no bill scheduled for debate, and the only measure moving in the House of Representatives is a bill to increase shooting response training for students and teachers.
Scott, who is moving toward a Senate bid against Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson, was critical of the inaction in Washington. “If you look at the federal government, nothing seems to have happened there,” he said. “You go elect people, you expect them to represent you, get things done.”
The new Florida law imposes a three-day waiting period for most purchases of long guns, raises the minimum age for buying those weapons to 21 and bans the possession of bump stocks, devices that can make semiautomatic weapons fire like fully automatic firearms. It does not address the demand of many Stoneman Douglas students for a ban on assault weapons.
The bill does make it easier for law enforcement and judges to remove guns from people considered a danger to themselves or others, and it establishes a program to arm some school personnel, along with hundreds of millions of dollars in new spending on school security and mental health treatment.
Before signing the bill, the governor restated his opposition to portions of it, including the waiting period and any effort to arm teachers.
Marion Hammer, the NRA’s Florida lobbyist, has denounced the bill as an unconstitutional infringement on the Second Amendment and said it passed the state House in “a display of bullying and coercion.” She called those Republicans who opposed the bill “courageous patriots.” She objected to the new waiting period, age limits and the bump stock ban.
Shortly after Scott signed the law, the NRA filed suit in federal court to block raising the minimum age for purchasing long guns, arguing that the change violates the constitutional rights of 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds.
“I have not spoken to anybody in the NRA since this happened,” said Scott, who previously received an A-plus rating from the powerful group.
Opponents of the new law have threatened to punish the governor if he moves forward with a Senate campaign. “By signing this bill, Gov. Scott has demonstrated that the support of gun owners is not important to him,” said Eric Friday, the general counsel of Florida Carry, a gun rights group. “I expect it to play a large role in his Senate race.”
After Scott came out against arming teachers in schools, state Republican leaders amended the bill to exclude school employees who work exclusively as classroom teachers from being part of the “school marshal” program.
The program is voluntary for school districts, and any school employees who carry a weapon will have to undergo 132 hours of law enforcement training with the county sheriff’s office, pass a background check and take additional diversity training.
Until the Parkland shooting, Scott was championed by the NRA as a defender of gun rights. He supported state laws that prohibited local governments from regulating firearms, barred doctors from asking their patients about gun ownership and allowed children to play with simulated guns in school.
As recently as 2017, Scott promoted himself as a gun rights purist and boasted of Florida as a haven for gun owners. “We love tourists, new residents and the Second Amendment,” he said at the NRA annual meeting in Atlanta in April. “What does ‘shall not infringe on the people’s right to bear arms’ mean? It means ‘shall not infringe.’ It’s not really very complicated.”
Those positions are no longer widely held in Florida, after three mass shootings took 72 lives over the past two years — at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, the international airport in Fort Lauderdale and Stoneman Douglas.
A Quinnipiac poll taken more than a week after the latest shooting found that 78 percent of Florida residents supported raising the age for all gun purchases to 21, 87 percent supported a mandatory waiting period for all gun purchases, and 56 percent supported allowing teachers and school officials to carry guns on school grounds.
Nelson, who is preparing to face Scott in November, has signaled that he will make guns an issue.
“This is a first step, and if we really want to do something to combat gun violence, like what we saw in Parkland, we must require universal background checks on the purchase of a gun and get these assault rifles off our streets,” Nelson said in a statement after the bill became law.
Giffords, a gun regulation group founded by former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), has been running an ad in Florida, in advance of Scott’s campaign launch, that accuses the governor of “putting the gun lobby ahead of our safety.”
Democrats were quick to attack Scott minutes after the signing ceremony, arguing that he had come late to the issue of gun regulation for political reasons. “Today was no different from any other day of Rick Scott’s political career,” David Bergstein, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said in a statement. “He was looking out for himself, not doing what’s best for Floridians.”