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Gov. Scott Pushes $500 Million School Security Plan In Tampa

Hafsa Quraishi
WUSF Public Media
Gov. Scott addresses his new plan to improve school safety and gun laws at an event at Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office on Wednesday.

Governor Rick Scott outlined his recently unveiled safety plan at the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office Wednesday. The proposed $500 million plan calls for new laws that keep guns from mentally ill people and improve school safety, among other measures.

The move comes in response to the school shooting in Parkland two weeks ago that killed 17 people. 

The governor was joined by local leaders, including Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister and Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. Attorney General Pam Bondi, Hillsborough County School Superintendent Jeff Eakins and Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan were also in attendance. 

"Governor Scott, today we applaud you," said Sheriff Chronister. "We applaud you for not taking a knee-jerk or an emotional action in light of the Parkland tragedy, but instead developing a common-sense approach to keeping our children, our schools and our community safe."

When Scott took the mic, he voiced his initial reactions on the day of the mass shootings.

"That day I called my daughters and said, 'Unfortunately, in your lifetime, you're going to have to teach your children about an active shooter and what they do,'" recalled the governor. "'You're going to have to teach them, that even though they're safe at their house, they're going to have to think about being safe at their school.'"

In response to the shooting, Gov. Scott met with school leaders, teachers, mental health professionals and law enforcement members from all over the state in Tallahassee a week following the incident. 

"(I asked) 'what are some logical solutions?'" said Scott, telling them, "'we have to get something done; there's no alternatives - we have to change the direction of the state.'"

The governor's plan is comprised of a multifaceted approach to making schools safer and guns inaccessible to those who are mentally unfit and are a danger to themselves or others.

"We've got to make sure we have common-sense solutions to make sure every parent knows that their child is safe," Scott said at the Wednesday event.

The $500 million proposal would essentially do five things:

  • Raise the minimum age of purchasing guns from 18 to 21.
  • Ban the purchase and sale of bump stocks, an accessory which allows for semi-automatic rifles, which are often the weapon of choice for mass shooters, to fire faster.
  • Pass a 'red flag law' that would be intended to prevent the mentally ill and domestic abusers from possessing or purchasing a gun.
  • Give $450 million to local school districts to go towards hardening school security.
  • Invest $50 million towards mental health initiatives at the Department of Children and Families.

The funding for the plan would come from a budget surplus the state currently has, said the governor.
Scott's efforts to harden schools would include having mandatory law enforcement officers at every school. Other suggestions include metal detectors and bullet-proof glass.

In addition to the school security aspect, the governor would like part of that $450 million to go towards incorporating mental health professionals that each student would have access to, including a DCF employee to oversee everything.

"I want a threat assessment team at every school, including the principal, the teacher, local law enforcement, a DCF employee and a Department of Juvenile Justice employee," stated Governor Scott. "The goal is maximum changes in school safety."

Although Scott calls for new gun laws in his plan, his attitude on the situation is no different than his previous stance on gun control. On Wednesday, he emphasized that he doesn't believe the Parkland shooting was a gun issue, citing different incidents of mass violence and the variety of methods used.

"We had Timothy McVeigh use fertilizer to kill 168 people in Oklahoma; in New York and Europe, people used vehicles; the bombing in Boston used pressure cookers," he said. "The right answer is not ban specific weapons, but ban specific people from having any weapon."

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri echoed that sentiment.

"If it isn't one modality, it's another," said the sheriff, criticizing the call for a ban on assault rifles for "focusing on one instrument" rather than the bigger problem: people. "(Potential shooters) are just going to go onto something else to use to wreak havoc and cause mass destruction."

Gualtieri also expressed some discontent with the aspect of Scott's plan that called for the minimum age to be raised, calling it a "feel good" reaction.

"They should do it, because if it (improves the situation) a little bit, it's a good thing," Gualtieri said, before adding, "that's not going to solve this problem...because someone could buy one off the internet."

He suggested more broad-based solutions that focus on the preventing dangerous individuals from having access to guns.

In the eight years since taking office, Scott has received an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association. His new plan, however, deviates from some of the ideas the organization is pushing, including an NRA-backed bill to arm teachers.

The 'school marshal' program, which was recently approved by the House Appropriations Committee, calls for law enforcement to train teachers to carry guns in school. The governor, however, believes it's inappropriate.

"I'll review the bill, but I believe that law enforcement should be doing public safety and teachers ought to be teaching," said Scott.

Outside Wednesday's event, a group gathered to protest Scott's new plan. Tim Heberlein, a gun owner, disagrees with the defensive approach of  it, saying it misses the point.

"It's making our schools more dangerous and not even addressing what's going on here, which is the accessibility to high power firearms," said Heberlein. He believes there is more that can be done, starting with mandatory insurance on firearms.

Despite his issues with some of the governor's ideas, Heberlein agrees with him on the opposition to arming teachers.

"My wife is a teacher and she's concerned about turning our schools into what looks like prisons," adding that she might quit if teachers start carrying guns at her school.

Above all, he questions Scott's timing on acting on gun control, crediting it to him possibly running for Senate this year.

"He didn't act after Pulse (nightclub shooting), he didn't act after Ft. Lauderdale (airport shooting)...why now?" Heberlin said, referring to earlier mass shootings in Florida.

Politics aside, one thing is for certain: the Parkland shooting changed Florida.

"Florida's never going to be the same," Scott said Wednesday. "And we've got to make sure Florida's never the same."

Hafsa Quraishi is a WUSF Public Media digital news intern for fall 2017.
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