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Florida Lawmakers Under Pressure To Move Forward On Gun Control Measures

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Let's turn to Florida now, where the state Senate is holding a rare Saturday session. Members of the legislature are considering a number of gun and school safety measures following last month's shooting in Parkland. Sascha Cordner from member station WFSU has been following the debate in Florida and the ideas dominating the conversation.

SASCHA CORDNER, BYLINE: Lawmakers in Florida's capitol have been saying they want to pass some form of legislation since the parents and student survivors from Parkland began demanding it shortly after the shooting. Legislators have been considering whether to include things like a ban on bump stocks and raising the minimum age for a person to buy any firearm to 21. But provisions like those had one representative, Jay Fant, pointing to the Second Amendment.

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JAY FANT: This level of infringement upon our most sacred and highest regarded law is tremendously out of place. Instead, focus on the more positive pieces of the legislation proposed.

CORDNER: Like allowing designated teachers to carry firearms if they are deputized and complete law enforcement training. Incoming Florida House Speaker Jose Oliva says it's part of a school marshal program, another idea that's kept coming up during this debate.

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JOSE OLIVA: Those coaches, those teachers who threw themselves in the line of fire - if they could have had a way to defend themselves and their students, I think - I think that they would have wanted that.

CORDNER: Fant and Oliva our part of the GOP majority controlling the Florida statehouse. Among Democrats, the debate revealed opposition that goes beyond the specific provisions currently on the floor. Representative Kamia Brown is a member of the black legislative caucus.

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KAMIA BROWN: While a vast majority of our teachers are wonderful people, there could be situations where guns are actually used against minority students because a teacher says that he or she fears for her life and the safety of others. In this bill, there is no exception to the already-law "stand your ground" included. Teachers authorized to carry up under this marshal program will be able to stand their ground when they are threatened by any student - not just an active shooter - and avoid all civil and criminal liability.

CORDNER: For decades, Republican majorities in the Florida legislature have not taken up gun restrictions and have instead passed pro-gun measures like strengthening "stand your ground." But there is now more movement on toughening Florida's gun laws. Governor Rick Scott took to the House floor Thursday to urge lawmakers to pass something before the end of the 2018 legislative session.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RICK SCOTT: As you all know, two weeks ago, Florida changed. Seventeen people in our state that didn't deserve to die died. It's horrible this would ever happen anywhere. And when you talk to the families, you just can't imagine what they're going through.

CORDNER: Representative Katie Edwards-Walpole is a Democrat. She says it's time for all sides to work past their differences.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KATIE EDWARDS-WALPOLE: And I would just ask that going forward that those individuals who can't get with it and be a part of this bipartisan compromise and work towards a solution - get the hell out of the way.

CORDNER: And the Florida legislative session ends Friday, so lawmakers have just the coming week to find that solution.

For NPR News, I'm Sascha Cordner in Tallahassee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.