Florida’s senate convened a rare Saturday session to reject taking action on guns

Lawmakers almost did something bold to counter gun violence. Almost.

Ativists and students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School attend a rally at the Florida State Capitol. CREDIT: Don Juan Moore/Getty Images
Ativists and students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School attend a rally at the Florida State Capitol. CREDIT: Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

For one brief, hopeful moment, Florida’s Republican-controlled Senate summoned the courage to take meaningful action to curb gun violence in the state, two weeks after the deadliest school shooting in state history at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

By a voice vote, the state legislature’s upper chamber approved a two-year moratorium on the sale of AR-15 guns, the same kind used by a gunman to murder 17 people on Valentine’s Day. The result was surprising, and ultimately short-lived. Minutes later, Republican State Sen. Rob Bradley called for a more formal roll-call vote, and the measure failed 21-17. Only two Republicans joined all Democrats in voting for the measure.

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The moratorium was just one of several Democratic amendments to a package of bills ostensibly aimed at preventing another school massacre. Another — introducing a registration requirement for guns across the state — also failed, along party lines. As did a bill requiring child trigger locks on guns. Other amendments being pushed by Democrats include an assault weapons ban, and allowing local municipalities to impose their own stricter gun laws in the event the state legislature in Tallahassee fails to adequately address the issue of gun violence. They are all expected to fail.

The larger bill, which has bipartisan support, includes a few uncontroversial measures that will make it slightly more inconvenient to purchase a gun, including expanding the three-day waiting period that currently applies to handguns to include all guns. It also calls for raising the age requirement for rifle and shotgun purchases to 21, an action voluntarily taken this week by national retailers like Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart. The bill would also increase funding for mental health programs at schools across the state and establish a three-year Marjory Stoneman Douglass Public Safety Commission tasked with making recommendations on school safety and determining what went wrong at the Parkland school.

Lawmakers in Florida have been unrepentant in dismissing the cries — literal cries — of Parkland survivors who are demanding meaningful action on guns after watching their classmates bleed to death on their classroom floors. Days after the shooting, students from the school stood in the gallery and watched as Republicans in the state house voted overwhelmingly against even allowing a debate on an assault weapons ban. Florida’s congressional delegation, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R) have similarly expressed little sympathy for the students. He defended his decision to accept millions from NRA lobbyists, but despite issuing a promise to the faces of Parkland survivors during a televised town hall last month, Rubio abruptly backtracked a week later.

The state capitol hasn’t been completely useless in the last three weeks, though. Both chambers advanced a bill that would arm public school teachers, a measure strongly objected to by Parkland survivors, experts on gun violence prevention, and the teachers themselves. And while the House refused to even allow a debate on assault weapons, they did enact swift justice on another societal menace: pornography, which they declared a public health risk. No word on whether lawmakers will be exempt from their own bill.