GOP poll in Florida shows strong feelings about assault weapons

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A majority of Floridians support a ban on the sale of assault weapons, including a majority of Florida gun owners, according to a poll conducted by this week by the Florida Senate Republican leaders.

The measure is the latest sign that the bills drafted by the House and Senate and expected to be unveiled on Friday may fall short of what most Floridians want lawmakers to do after the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14 that killed 17 students and teachers.

The shooter, Nikolas Cruz, used an AR-15 in the Parkland attack and bought the gun legally from a Broward gun shop. All 15 Senate Democrats want an assault weapons ban. They will propose it Monday at a Senate Rules Committee meeting when three gun bills are debated for the first time: SB 7022, SB 7024 and SB 7026.

“There is support for going farther,” acknowledged Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, the incoming Senate leader, in an interview with the Herald/Times.

But, he said, the bill to be unveiled on Friday will not include an assault weapons ban. He added, “I’m not under any illusion that the issue will not come up.”

Related: ”Florida considers most significant gun-control proposals in years. Are they enough?”

A copy of the poll of Democrats, Republicans and gun owners was not made available to the Herald/Times but Galvano discussed the highlights. The poll, paid for by the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, also showed little support for arming teachers, with a majority of Florida voters opposed to that idea.

“There seems to be some opposition, or concern, about the idea of having faculty and administration within the schools prepared to be responders in an event,” Galvano said. But he said that most people are referring to the proposal by Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, which has been pulled from further consideration. It allowed teachers to be armed with no requirement for training them.

“Arming teachers is not the answer anymore than arming legislators,” Galvano said. “There’s a big difference between arming teachers and training them to be first responders. There has to be a specific program, and that’s what we’re doing.”

The proposed legislation will allow trained teachers, which are being called “sentinels,” to carry concealed weapons in school after being trained and deputized by the local sheriff.

“There’s a big difference between a program like that and one in which the personnel are actually under the auspices of the sheriff’s office and the sheriff is taking responsibility for that person and training them for 132 hours minimum — which is something I feel very strongly about,” he said.

Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs, whose district includes the Parkland school, said he expects the legislation released by the House and Senate Friday to allow schools to opt-in to a program to train teachers to be armed. The concept is heavily supported by lawmakers in rural areas who argue that schools lose valuable time waiting for law enforcement to arrive and need to have more guns on campus.

“It has to have local control to work,” Moskowitz said. “The state will fund, but you have to opt-in to the program and the criteria for certification is rigorous.”

Although the House and Senate have not indicated they will include a ban on high-capacity magazines, the poll also asked voters about them, and the majority of those responding also opposed giving access to the high-powered ammunition.

In addition to overwhelming support for an assault weapons ban and opposition to “arming teachers,” the other components of the proposed legislation outlined by Galvano have overwhelming public support. Those measures include:

▪  A three-day waiting period for all gun purchases.

▪  Banning bump stocks — the devices used to turn a semi-automatic weapon into an automatic one.

▪  Increased powers for law enforcement to remove guns from people who display warning signs they could be dangerous to others.

▪  Enhanced background checks.

Galvano emphasized, “I want to make something absolutely clear, this package of proposals was put together before we did any polling.”

Gov. Rick Scott will hold a press conference at 11 a.m. Friday to announce his proposal. It is possible that the governor, who has earned an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association and is expected to seek the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, could propose stricter gun laws than the Republican lawmakers, who face potential primary opposition from the right if they support the stricter laws.

In his conversations with students Wednesday, Scott indicated he wanted to make sure there were more metal detectors installed in schools and that windows were retrofitted with more bulletproof glass, said Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, who attended the meetings.

Galvano, the incoming Senate president, is charged with making sure Republicans get re-elected in November, and many fear opposition from the right in a primary if they appear too moderate on gun issues. Legislators have two weeks left in the regular session and there are two open seats in the 40-member Senate, after the resignation of Sens. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth.

In addition to losing the votes of the 15 Senate Democrats, who want stronger gun laws, there are at least two Republican senators who have privately said they could support a ban on assault weapons.

Galvano could also lose the votes of Baxley, and Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, who oppose raising the age and adding a waiting period for purchase of the semi-automatic weapons.

“It has been literally just over a week and there continue to be lessons to learn,” Galvano said. “This is a work in progress.”

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