State lawmakers are facing renewed pressure to pass gun control legislation following last week’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland — and the Legislature is only scheduled to be in session for another two and a half weeks after it returns from the Presidents' Day recess.
State Sen. Gary Farmer, who represents nearby Fort Lauderdale, is pushing the Legislature’s Republican leadership to hear bills he and his Democratic colleagues have introduced in past years.
He also expect lawmakers to allocate additional funding to boost school safety and mental health services statewide, as well as money to tear down and replace the building on Stoneman Douglas's campus where the shooting took place.
WLRN’s Jessica Bakeman interviewed Farmer at a rally he organized over the weekend. Here is an excerpt of their conversation:
WLRN: What do you hope to highlight today?
FARMER: In the aftermath of this tragedy, we've heard a lot about mental health — very important topic. We've heard about security in our schools — also something that should definitely be discussed. But lost in the discussion has been the fact that for the last two years we have filed sensible gun safety legislation: like closing the background check loopholes, like doing away with these military-style assault weapons and these high-volume magazines that were used at Stoneman Douglas for this tragedy, creating a gun registry so that law enforcement have the tools they need to answer threats when they find out about them. They have not received one hearing in Tallahassee.
Conversely, we've had numerous gun rights expansion bills that have been heard. And, incredibly, next week, on the floor of the Senate, we may hear a bill to allow you to bring a gun to church. And in the Senate Judiciary Committee, there is a bill [scheduled to be considered] to bring guns to schools. More guns is not the answer. No way should anybody have access to these killing machines. They were designed for one thing and one thing only: to kill large numbers of human beings. We need to end the access to these guns. We need to close the gun-show loopholes and other loopholes in the background checks to make sure that people that have mental health issues are not getting possession of dangerous firearms.
WLRN: Who do you think is responsible for what you describe as inaction on this issue in Tallahassee?
FARMER: Oh, it's plain: It's the [National Rifle Association], and it's the control they have over so many elected officials.
WLRN: You got a tour of the buildings where some of these shootings took place. Can you tell me what you saw what that was like for you?
FARMER: It was horrific. I've held it together pretty well for the last two days. But last night, when I was telling my family about it, you know, I broke down. To see the book bags and the papers and the pencils scattered, the leftover cards and carnations for Valentine's Day, and then the carnage — blood splattered, bullet holes. He [19-year-old alleged shooter Nikolas Cruz] attempted to shoot from the third-floor window to be like a sniper. Thank God he couldn't get through the hurricane windows.
But the scene out there is just horrific, and it just breaks my heart to think what went through the minds of those children, and what they're going through now. The aftermath of this is never going to leave our community. But it needs to motivate us.
WLRN: The Legislature is talking about allocating money to replace Building 12, where the shootings took place. Can you tell me about that?
FARMER: I spoke with Senate President [Joe] Negron yesterday, who was with me when we toured the school. We need to get rid of that building. There's no way any student is going to be able to go back into that building. I think there's growing recognition of that fact, and the fact that Broward County could use a little bit of funding help to get that done. But we need to demolish that building.
WLRN: Is there a bigger picture plan in terms of funding for schools for mental health statewide?
FARMER: I hope so. You know, last week in the Senate, we passed legislation that included $40 million for mental health counseling. Senate President-Elect [Bill] Galvano has issued a statement saying he's calling for $100 million for mental health counseling.
This is something we slowly defunded over the years. We've talked about the school resource officers, the security for the schools, but we need more counselors. We need more social workers. We need more people who can identify the signs and then give the help that's needed to avoid these things from happening. When legislators don't act, it's up to the people to raise their voice. There is, I think, extreme recognition that we cannot say, “thoughts and prayers” anymore. It's time for action.