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Florida Lawmakers Try To Pass Gun Legislation Before Session Ends

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It is not clear that Congress will pass gun laws after the Florida school shooting. Florida Governor Rick Scott insists his state will act.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RICK SCOTT: I'm not waiting for the federal government. We're going to invest $500 million. We're going to have a significant law enforcement presence at every public school in our state.

INSKEEP: Doing that requires action from the Florida Legislature, including our next guest, Randy Fine. He's a Republican lawmaker representing part of Florida's east coast.

Mr. Fine, welcome to the program.

RANDY FINE: Thank you for having me.

INSKEEP: OK. So I guess you got lots of proposals in front of you in Florida, including allowing qualified teachers to carry guns, but also some restrictions on the supply of guns. So let me ask about that. There's a proposal to ban these bumps stocks that turn some weapons into machine guns, in effect - also, a proposal to raise the age limit to buy a rifle. The National Rifle Association opposes those proposals. Can you support them?

FINE: Well, we're going to see what happens as the bill goes through the process. I think what's important to know is in Florida, we're taking a multistep process. We're going to harden school security. We're going to make sure students get the mental health support they need. And we're going to make sure no teacher ever again is a sitting duck should someone come on campus with a gun.

INSKEEP: OK. That sounds good. The school security side - sounds like you're on board for that. But, well, I'm thinking about a parallel public health problem - drugs. I mean, if you were going after the drug problem, you'd want to address treatment. You'd want to address education. You'd want to do lots of things - mental health. But you'd also want to go after the supply of drugs. Can the problem of guns be addressed if you do not address the supply of guns in some way?

FINE: That's a great question. But you can use that analogy. Has drug use stopped because drugs are illegal?

INSKEEP: No.

FINE: The problem is, is that simply focusing on the instrument doesn't necessarily solve the problem. Many of us believe that Nikolas Cruz would have engaged in violence using a knife or a truck or, frankly, some gun that he bought illegally. Simply focusing on taking rights away from people who have a constitutional right to them won't necessarily solve the problem. That doesn't mean...

INSKEEP: Well, let's grant - let's just - let's stipulate your constitutional argument there. But let me also turn that back on you. I'm not asking if you should simply focus on the gun. I'm asking if you think it's appropriate to not focus on the gun at all.

FINE: Well, we are focusing on the gun. The largest part of the 67-page piece of legislation that we're looking at in the House is talking about confiscating guns from - who already own them and who bought them legally from people who it is found are to be a danger to themselves. So we are actually, in our law that we're considering, going to take guns away from people who it is not safe to own them.

INSKEEP: OK.

FINE: We are determined to make sure that folks who have no ability, who shouldn't have guns, won't be able to get them.

INSKEEP: What about raising the age limit? Were you willing to go there?

FINE: I have concerns about that. I mean, removing the Second Amendment rights of people 18-21 years old - we have people who have families who want to protect themselves. And so I've got some concerns about how that will work. And we're going to see how that changes as the bill moves through the process.

INSKEEP: Representative, let me give you an opportunity to address some criticism that's been made of lawmakers who get support from the National Rifle Association. People will say the NRA is spending millions to support lawmakers. It's certainly true. We should point out the Tampa Bay Times says that the NRA actually spends very little money supporting lawmakers in Florida. But the grade you get from the NRA is very important, and you've got an A. Are you willing to cast a vote that might have that ranking go down?

FINE: Absolutely. But as far as I know, no lawmaker in Florida has received a dollar from the NRA in 18 years. So this notion that we're all bought and paid for, getting all of this money from the NRA - it's simply not true. The NRA made that grade of me before I was even in the legislature. So it's certainly not based on any votes that I've taken.

INSKEEP: Although the grade is politically important. It's maybe more important than money because there're a lot of people who will vote on that grade. There are a lot of people who will be activists or not so active based on that grade. Are you convinced that you and your colleagues are willing to challenge the NRA and put something in this legislation that the NRA might cause you to - well, knock you down to a B, knock you down to a C?

FINE: I ran for office for two reasons. Their names are Jacob and David - my sons. They're - that's the grade that I'm worried about. And I'm willing to take any grade from any organization as long as I'm looking out for my boys and everybody like them.

INSKEEP: Do you feel certain, then, that Florida lawmakers will pass significant gun legislation before the end of this session that you're in?

FINE: I think we're going to pass significant legislation that will make sure what Nikolas Cruz did never happens again. What component gun control will have of that I think remains to be seen. But that's only one small part of the problem. The fact remains, we had all the laws necessary to make sure that he didn't commit this crime. We need to make sure we get to the bottom of what people like Sheriff Israel did so we make sure it never happens again.

INSKEEP: Oh, you're talking about the question of whether police officers should've gone in or whether the sheriff's department should have spotted Nikolas Cruz as a problem a little sooner.

FINE: Well, we know they should've. They received dozens of warnings, including from himself. So we knew that there were problems, and we knew there were issues, and they simply weren't addressed. Simply focusing on taking rights away from law-abiding citizens will not help us deal with the problems of Nikolas Cruz.

INSKEEP: Representative Fine, thanks very much - really appreciate talking with you.

FINE: No problem. Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: Randy Fine is a Republican in the Florida House of Representatives. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.