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Florida Gov. Rick Scott breaks with NRA to sign new gun regulation

Florida Gov. Rick Scott breaks with NRA to sign new gun regulation

New law establishes a three-day waiting period for most purchases for long guns and a new age requirement
Florida Gov. Rick Scott breaks with NRA to sign new gun regulation
Gov. Rick Scott speaks to reporters after a meeting about how to prevent future mass shootings, in Tallahassee, Fla., Feb. 23.
Photographer: Audra Melton/The New York Times

Florida Gov. Rick Scott defied his longtime allies at the National Rifle Association Friday to sign into law a new set of gun regulations, three weeks after a school shooting claimed 17 lives in his state.

Scott said he was signing the legislation because "this is a time for all of us to come together, roll up our sleeves and get it done."

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 the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have sputtered, despite calls from President Donald Trump for bipartisan action. The U.S. 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.

The Florida law imposes a three-day waiting period for most purchases of long guns, raises the minimum age for purchasing those weapons to 21, and ban the possession of bump stocks, devices that can make semi-automatic weapons fire like fully-automatic firearms.

It also makes it easier for law enforcement and judges to remove guns from people considered a danger to themselves or others, and it establishes a new program to arm some school personnel, along with hundreds of millions of dollars in new spending on school security and mental health treatments.

Scott, who received an A-plus rating from the NRA, is moving toward a U.S. Senate run and a challenge to Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson.

The governor previously said he opposed the new waiting period for guns 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 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 ban on the possession of bump stocks.

Opponents of the new law have threatened to punish the governor. "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 those school employees who work exclusively as classroom teachers from being part of the "school marshal" program.

The program is voluntary for state 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, prohibited 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 April NRA Annual Meeting in Atlanta. "What does 'shall not' infringe on the peoples 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 last two years - at Orlando's Pulse Nightclub, the international airport in Fort Lauderdale, and at Marjory 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, D-Fla., who is preparing to face Scott in November, has signaled that he will make guns an issue. Nelson supports several additional measures opposed by Scott, including a ban on assault weapons like the ones used in Parkland and Orlando and an expansion of background checks to include private sales at gun shows.

Giffords, a gun regulation group founded by former Rep. 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."

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