DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — Two weeks to the day after a mass shooting at a high school in Parkland left 17 dead and 14 wounded, Florida Gov. Rick Scott stopped in DeFuniak Springs to outline a $500 million plan he says will make schools safer.
Scott spoke at the Walton County Sheriff’s Office and was flanked by sheriffs from Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Escambia, Bay, Liberty, Washington, Holmes and Jackson counties as well police chiefs from Panama City Beach, Milton and DeFuniak Springs. During his speech, which lasted about five minutes, Scott detailed a proposal that he says will keep guns out of the hands of mentally disabled people and increase funding for mental health services in schools.
“Every parent in the state, every parent in our country, should be very comfortable that when they send their child to school, their child is going to come home safely,” Scott said. “I’ve sat down with sheriffs, police chiefs, mental health professionals, educators, parents and students. I’ve visited patients that were shot in the hospital, and I’ve listened to them. If something like this happens, you have to stop and listen to what people feel their needs are, and that’s what I’ve tried to do.”
Scott’s plan to keep guns away “from dangerous and violent people” includes laws that would prohibit a violent or mentally ill person from purchasing or possessing a firearm, require all people who buy a firearm to be at least 21 years old, establish enhanced criminal penalties for threats to schools and ban the purchase and sale of bump stocks.
In a $450 million plan to “keep students safe,” the proposal includes a measure to “provide sheriff’s departments the authority to train additional school personnel or reserve law enforcement officers to protect students if requested by the local school board,” Scott said. The proposal also details ways to require mandatory active shooter training and crisis intervention training, establish funding for mental health counselors in every school and place a “threat assessment team” in each school.
An additional $50 million mental health initiative would expand mental health service teams and require every sheriff’s office to have a Florida Department of Children and Families officer embedded in their department.
When asked about student activists’ push to ban assault-style weapons, including guns such as the AR-15 that was used in the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Scott said that he was “glad people who probably, historically, have not gotten active in politics” were mobilizing, but he would not support a ban on such weapons.
“We shouldn’t be banning specific weapons,” he said. “We should be banning specific people from having weapons. ... If you have mental illness issues, you shouldn’t have access to a gun. But we shouldn’t punish law-abiding citizens.”
Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson, who has been perhaps one of the most visible proponents of Scott’s school safety plan, said the proposal is “the most significant change in law enforcement I’ve seen in my 25 years, and I will say it’s probably the fastest I’ve ever seen the state of Florida’s government move to address a situation.”
“Is it perfect? No,” Adkinson said. “But it is a monumental change, and it is absolutely a fundamental change in philosophy toward school resources and school safety.”