Letter To The Editor: School Safety

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By: Robert Weinroth Special to the Boca Newspaper

As a general rule, schools are orderly, safe places where we deliver our children to an educational process designed to create curiosity and learning. From Kindergarten until graduation, an implicit agreement is created whereby parents entrust the welfare of their children to an educational system designed to motivate, challenge and teach the next generation.

When, as we witnessed on February 14th, our children are placed in physical and emotional jeopardy everything changes. For the child there is the loss of innocence and exposure to the senseless violence visited on their “safe place” of learning.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas HS joins a growing list of educational venues (e.g., Sandy Hook, Columbine and Virginia Tech) where students have found themselves sheltering in place to avoid the spray of bullets unleashed around them.

What made the murder of 17 students and staff so difficult to understand is the number of opportunities authorities had to address the danger posed by Nikolas Cruz. Not only were there warning signs of his acts of premeditated murder, but repeated calls for help appear to have been mishandled making many argue those failures make many others complicit.

Soon after the bodies were buried, the social media was ablaze with #MSDStrong. The students and parents affected by this wanton violence refused to accept the prayers of a nation, once again witnessing the slaughter of our young.

Students took to the streets. First marching in Parkland, then throughout South Florida and ultimately they marched nationwide for change on one of America’s most vexing social issues.

The gun control bill that passed the Florida Legislature and immediately signed by Governor Rick Scott is a major victory for the new Parkland activists being passed in defiance of the National Rifle Association. This was first successful gun control measure in Florida in more than 20 years.

But it left out many of the biggest provisions the students and their supporters had sought, including bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. The bill will change the minimum age for all gun purchases to 21 from 18. This is a divergence from federal law, under which people cannot buy handguns from licensed dealers until they are 21, but can buy shotguns and rifles, often much deadlier than handguns, at 18. Prospective gun buyers will have to wait three days, or until a background check is completed, whichever is longer with exceptions for police officers, members of the military, licensed hunters and licensed concealed carriers.

Bump stocks like the one used by a gunman in Las Vegas to kill 58 people and wound hundreds; make a semiautomatic weapon able to fire almost as fast as an automatic machine guns will no longer be legal in Florida.

Perhaps the most controversial provision of the bill will permit school superintendents and sheriffs to arm school  (not requested by the Parkland students but long desired by the NRA which argues gun-free zones prevent people from defending themselves in an attack).

The bill will create a $67 million voluntary program under which certain employees (e.g., counselors, coaches and librarians) would be trained and the training would include 12 hours of diversity training.

The bill provides funding to “harden” school buildings to make them more secure and to hire more school-based police officers.

Florida school districts will also receive state funding to provide mental health care to students and the bill will authorize police to temporarily confiscate guns from anyone subject to involuntary psychiatric evaluation under Florida’s Baker Act and prohibit gun sales to Floridians who were committed to mental institutions or deemed mentally incompetent by a judge, and would allow the police, with the court’s approval, to bar a person deemed dangerous from owning guns for up to a year.

This is a dramatic change for Florida where gun rights have continued to expand on an annual basis. However, with all the things this milestone legislation does, it fails to address assault weapons or high-capacity magazines, which can hold as many as 100 rounds.

Changes to background check procedure, which have received bipartisan support since the Parkland shooting, were not addressed in the bill.

Federal law requires background checks for gun sales by licensed dealers, but private firearm sales are not always subject to checks.

Within hours of the bill’s signing, the NRA a lawsuit in the Northern District of Florida contending law violates the Second and 14th Amendments of the US Constitution. The Second Amendment is the right to bear arms, and the 14th Amendment guarantees equal protection under the law.

Clearly, the fight is not over.