JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The sweeping school safety bill passed by the state Senate on Monday and the House late Wednesday would tighten Florida's gun laws -- the first gun reform bill to pass the Legislature in decades.
Among many other provisions, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act raises the age to buy a rifle from 18 to 21 and extends the three-day waiting period to include long guns. The measure that was opposed by the gun lobby for placing new restrictions on firearm sales and by gun-control advocates for not banning assault-style rifles passed the Senate by one vote and the House 67-50, with nine Republicans and with 19 Democrats opposed.
The bill now goes to Gov. Rick Scott for his signature. While the bulk of what's contained in the bill came from his proposal, the Legislature added a provision that would allow trained and qualified school employees to be deputized to carry guns -- something he has opposed.
Two of the Republican House members voting no, Reps. Cord Byrd and Jay Fant of Jacksonville, questioned the constitutionality of the age restriction, the waiting period and the provision that would allow police to confiscate weapons from people deemed to be a threat.
"This is by far the hardest vote I've ever taken and will probably ever take in elected office," Byrd said. "I voted no on the bill, and the reason is it contains serious unconstitutional infirmities."
Rod Sullivan, a former constitutional law professor now in private practice, said there are provision in the bill that will likley be challenged.
"Expect the lawsuits will be brought and supported by gun rights groups, including the NRA, and they’ll probably go through the federal court system," Sullivan said. "Taxpayers will have to defend the lawsuit."
But Sullivan believes one of the provisions most likely to be challenged is allowing police to confiscate guns from possibly unstable people.
"You’re basically saying that without a person being able to go into court and defend themselves, an ex parte order can be issued and they can have all of their firearms taken and confiscated and held until they prove they are competent to own firearms," Sullivan said.
Sullivan also believes thinks the section that would authorize training, deputizing and arming certain school employees in what the bill calls the Guardian Program might draw the biggest challenge.
"That seems to me to be a classification that doesn't really have a rational basis," he said. "Why should a coach, janitor, and administrator be permitted to be a school guardian, but a classroom teacher be excluded from that process?"
Scott's office has not given any indication whether he would sign the legislation.
"The governor is thoroughly reviewing the legislation. He will be meeting with victims’ families on Friday in Tallahassee before he acts," the governor's communications director, John Tupps, said in a statement Thursday.