Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:


Feb. 27

The Gainesville Sun on a school safety plan making its way through the Legislature:

When it comes to guns, most Republican lawmakers are once again bowing to the demands of the gun lobby rather than listening to the Parkland survivors and the majority of the public.

Florida lawmakers are acting like they're finally doing something about gun violence, but their plan falls far short of the steps needed to help prevent mass shootings.

In response to the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Republicans in the Legislature are advancing a package of school-safety proposals. Measures such as ensuring every school has at least one law enforcement officer assigned to it and boosting mental health services in schools are welcome improvements.

But when it comes to guns, most Republicans are once again bowing to the demands of the gun lobby rather than listening to the Parkland survivors and the majority of the public. Despite majority support for a ban on military-style assault rifles similar to the weapon used in the Parkland shooting, the measure failed in its first two committee votes.

Instead, the GOP plan would raise the age for buying rifles to 21 years old and impose a three-day waiting period on sales to match the requirements for handguns. While a higher age requirement might have prevented the 19-year-old Parkland shooter from acquiring the gun that he used, these weapons of war were used by older gunman in mass shootings in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando and elsewhere.

The federal government should ban semi-automatic guns with detachable magazines and high-capacity magazines, which are designed to kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible. But with federal action appearing unlikely, we're left to count on Republicans in the Florida Legislature who long have shown fealty to the National Rifle Association.

Their proposal to allow teachers and other school employees to be armed is a dangerous distraction. Teachers or even school resource officers armed with handguns will be outgunned if we continue to allow the sale of military-style weapons.

A measure to prevent guns from being possessed by those who pose a danger to themselves or others due to mental illness is a step in the right direction. But the Legislature should go further in allowing restraining orders that keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, people on terrorist watch lists and others who show red flags of violent behavior.

The GOP plan also fails to expand background checks on gun purchases to include private sales at gun shows and online. And while state Senate Republicans have proposed banning the bump stocks that make semi-automatic guns function like automatic weapons, the House plan doesn't include that basic step.

When a Senate committee voted Monday against an assault-weapons ban, students and others who had come from South Florida for the hearing shouted "shame" and "vote them out." It looks like they're going to have to follow through on the latter pledge if they want the Legislature to take meaningful action on gun violence.

GOP lawmakers have long expanded gun rights and are only considering modest steps now become NRA members vote. If an assault-weapons ban has any chance of passing, the majority of the public that supports such a step must vote in greater numbers.



Feb. 27

Florida Today on whether the controls on AR-15s are a Second Amendment issue:

"Put simply, we have no power to extend Second Amendment protections to weapons of war."

The words above were written by Judge Robert King in a 2017 Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that upheld a Maryland ban on 45 military-style rifles and put a 10-round limit on gun magazines.

We support Americans' rights under the Second Amendment and we aren't recommending the confiscation of military-style weapons, such as the AR-15 used in Parkland, from law-abiding people who already own them. But it's time we have a conversation about making it harder for people to have access to tools that allow for the murder of so many so quickly.

We have great hope for the proposals from Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders unveiled Friday to raise the age to buy guns from 18 to 21, ban bump stocks and give law enforcement and courts more tools to keep guns away from the mentally ill and unstable. Lawmakers also want to impose a three-day waiting period to buy a gun, with some exceptions.

We need them to go farther.

The killing of children and their teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is another example that proves we cannot keep these rifles known as military-style weapons out of the hands of the deranged, and we must stop selling them. Those who already own such weapons should be allowed to keep them. The National Rifle Association estimates Americans own at least 8 million AR-15s and confiscating them would be logistically unfeasible.

We call for limiting the capacity of magazines — some states have a 10-round limit and others allow up to 15 — and limiting how many magazines a person can own per firearm. It's impossible to believe we can't find a compromise between gun owners and gun control advocates.

We recognize the next mass shooting will not be prevented by tightening gun laws alone.

Florida also needs more mental health help for adults and children, improved school security and more school resource officers — Scott wants one per 1,000 students at each school — and law enforcement must act quicker when people such as suspect gunman Nikolas Cruz display warning signs.

None of the above measures alone will stop the next shooter either. As the disclaimer above this editorial points out, an all-encompassing solution, while not foolproof, could certainly make it harder for the next shooter.

U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, a Treasure Coast Republican who in a surprise move last week called for a ban on new sales of AR-15s and similar weapons, put it perfectly:

Such a ban would not stop a "truly determined person from committing mass murder," he wrote in a Feb. 23 New York Times op-ed. But "not being able to control everything, however, should not prevent us from doing something."

Courts have already stipulated the Second Amendment doesn't apply to military-style rifles. They have actually done that four times in the last decade, according to a Washington Post analysis.

In the most recent case, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia last year ruled 10-4 that Maryland's weapons ban and magazine limit do not violate the Second Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court in November rejected an appeal from gun owners, meaning the ban is upheld. The country's highest court has rejected several opportunities to weigh in on similar laws.

The Maryland case rested largely on whether such weapons were needed for self-defense. King wrote in the majority opinion law enforcement officials did not identify one single case in which a military-style rifle or more than 10 rounds were used for self-defense. While guns such as the AR-15 are the most popular sporting rifles, they also were the most popular in mass shootings, King wrote.

It's harder to survive an AR-15 bullet than a shot from a 9 mm handgun, for example. AR-15 bullets travel three times faster and obliterate human tissue several inches from their path, leaving exit wounds the size of an orange. Victims often bleed to death.

Some gun owners believe once you ban some rifles you're on a slippery slope to ban more weapons. However, court rulings secured their rights to own a gun.

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in District of Columbia v. Heller the Second Amendment "guarantee(s) the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation" and therefore the District of Columbia couldn't ban handguns or require they be kept disassembled or with trigger locks.

Scalia also wrote, "Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited" and "not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose." He made reference to prohibitions on firearm possession by felons and the mentally ill and at schools and government buildings.

Limitations to the Second Amendment also are clear in a ban on the sale of automatic weapons.

In a follow-up case known as Heller II, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld a ban on semi-automatic rifles and high-capacity magazines in 2011 because, the court said, the ban didn't infringe on one's right to self-defense.

Until the U.S. Supreme Court decides to take up such bans we won't have an absolute ruling. Bans in seven states and the District of Columbia still stand as do restrictions on high-capacity magazines in eight states and the District of Columbia, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Constitutional rights are the foundation of our country but they aren't free from regulations. FLORIDA TODAY has vowed to protect free speech under the First Amendment, but we also understand the need for limitations. Child pornography, obscenity and so-called "fighting words" or "true threats" are not protected. That doesn't change America's status as a bedrock for the free media.

Freedom defines America, but so does our ability to compromise for the common good. In this case, that requires making sure fewer people have access to tools that make it too easy for the next mass shooting to occur.



Feb. 27

The Ledger of Lakeland on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement order to investigate how agencies handled the Parkland, Florida, school shooting:

Gov. Rick Scott made the right decision to order a Florida Department of Law Enforcement inquiry into how authorities handled Nikolas Cruz, the suspect in the Valentine's Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Several unsettling issues about that have arisen within the past few days, particularly the actions of the Broward County Sheriff's Office. Those developments have called into question the leadership of Sheriff Scott Israel — who, like countless others reeling from the emotional toll of this latest slaughter, has scolded the National Rifle Association, and by extension its supporters and millions of law-abiding members, and called for stricter gun control measures.

As Gov. Scott seems to sense, before we blindly follow the myopic path of the growing and increasingly voluble chorus demanding policies that would curtail Floridians' constitutional rights, we must have answers as to what, if anything, could have prevented the killings as they were happening or earlier.

Take just a sample of what has been revealed, either by the media, the Sheriff's Office itself, or a letter sent to Scott on Sunday from House Speaker Richard Corcoran — and signed by 73 other GOP lawmakers including Polk County Reps. Colleen Burton of Lakeland, Ben Albritton of Wauchula and Sam Killebrew of Winter Haven — that called for Israel's suspension.

We know that Broward deputies received at least 23 calls about Cruz or his family, going back to at least Israel's first week on the job in 2013. At least two of those, in February 2016 and November 2017, indicated that Cruz was planning to shoot up the school, and referred to social media posts of him brandishing weapons. The FBI similarly received at least two tips, including one on Jan. 5 from a woman who was a family friend and who said Cruz was "into ISIS" and predicted he was "going to explode." We must know why nothing was done, as Corcoran's letter asserts, to prevent this shooting.

Then, we learned that the first deputy at the scene, Scot Peterson, the school resource officer, failed to enter the building for at least four minutes while Cruz blasted away. He subsequently resigned. On Monday, according to news reports, Peterson's lawyer maintained he followed protocols and failed to enter the school because he believed the shots were coming from outside of it. But officers from the nearby Coral Springs Police Department, which also responded to the shooting, have told the media that possibly three other armed deputies declined to enter the building. We must know how this accusation came about and who is telling the truth.

We also have discovered that the Sheriff's Office "active shooter" policy grants deputies discretion in those situations to enter a building and engage the culprit. That policy appeared to be revised by Sheriff Israel or his staff in March 2016, but it's unclear if that specific language was the subject of the change. Questioned about the policy, one of Israel's senior leaders acknowledged that the choice to engage Cruz was Peterson's, and that he should have elected to go into the school. We must have better clarification about the rules of engagement and the communications between Peterson and any other deputies at the scene and their supervisors.

Israel has said he welcomes the FDLE probe and will cooperate fully with it. Good. He has cast blame in so many different directions, while touting, as he did on Sunday on CNN, his own "amazing leadership," that the survivors of this tragedy, their families, the community and the people of Florida deserve a full accounting from investigators outside the Broward bubble.

We agree with Sheriff Israel on one point: Nikolas Cruz, as we believe the criminal justice system will one day validate, was the person ultimately responsible for the carnage. Yet before accepting stricter gun-control policies advocated by people like Israel, the public must have the full, unvarnished story of the response to Cruz — so to better understand why we should or shouldn't entrust our safety to government agencies that seemed to fail so spectacularly in this instance.