Florida Senate to vote on school safety bill that excludes ban on assault rifles

The Florida Senate will vote on a school safety bill Monday.

Senators hammered out the legislation during a rare special session in Tallahassee over the weekend.

The push for school safety and gun control measures comes in the wake of the Parkland mass shooting, in which 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day

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The Senate spent nearly eight hours Saturday debating dozens of amendments to the 100-page bill before finally approving the legislation for a final vote on Monday.

Democratic proposals to ban assault rifles and large-capacity magazines were rejected, as was a Democratic proposal to strip language from the bill that would create a program to arm teachers who have gone through law-enforcement training if school districts choose to take part in the so-called marshal plan.

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It was clear that senators were divided on the bill, and not just on party lines. While crafted by Republicans, some GOP senators still opposed it because they don't agree with raising the minimum age to buy a rifle from 18 to 21 or requiring a waiting period to buy the weapons.

Democrats believe the legislation doesn't go far enough in some ways and goes too far in others. And while some oppose the bill, others believe it's at least a first step toward gun safety.

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Democrats want to ban weapons such as the AR-15 assault-style rifle, which was used in the Parkland attack. Many also oppose arming teachers. The bill also includes provisions to boost school security, establish new mental health programs in schools, and improve communication between schools, law enforcement and state agencies.

Jeff Xavier, a survivor of the Pulse attack, was hoping the legislation would include a ban on assault rifles.

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“I think that, as Americans, we do have a right to arm ourselves, however, I do not believe that high-powered, high-velocity (guns) should be available to the general public,” said Xavier.

But much of the debate Saturday revolved around gun control and whether people should have a right to own an assault rifle.

"Every constitutional right that we hold dear has a limitation," said Democratic Sen. Gary Farmer. "These are just military-style killing machines and the right of self-defense and the ability to hunt will go on."

Republicans argued that banning such weapons would violate the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

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"Our founding fathers weren't talking about hunting, and they weren't talking about protecting themselves from the thief down the street who might break in," said Republican Sen. David Simmons. Simmons said people need guns to protect themselves from a tyrannical government.

"Adolf Hitler confiscated all the weapons – took all the weapons, had a registry of everybody – and then on the night of June 30th, 1934, sent out his secret police and murdered all of his political opponents," Simmons said. "You think it doesn't happen in a free society? It does."

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The Legislature wraps up its annual session on Friday. Lawmakers are scrambling to take some kind of action before then. The full House has yet to take up its version of the bill.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott has been lobbying lawmakers to pass his plan to assign at least one law-enforcement officer for every 1,000 students at a school. Scott is opposed to arming teachers.

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