On Tuesday night, even as 100 or so students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were making their way to the state capitol in Tallahassee, the state House voted against proceeding to a debate on an assault weapons ban.
The vote – and the images of several of the students from the school that, a week ago, saw 17 people murdered, crying in the House gallery – drew national attention.
It also got me to wondering about whether the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, will have any real legislative impact in the Sunshine State. To answer that question – and for more context about how Florida’s state government has dealt with gun laws in recent years – I reached out to Mary Ellen Klas, the Tallahassee bureau chief of the Miami Herald.
Our conversation, conducted via email and lightly edited for flow, is below.
Cillizza: The Florida state House voted down the chance to move on to a debate about an assault weapons ban on Tuesday night. Was that a surprise given the circumstances?
Klas: The vote was to add to the calendar a bill sponsored by Democrats that had never gotten a hearing. It was a procedural move planned by the incoming Democratic leader and intended to embarrass the Republican-led House.
But the vote would never have gotten the super-majority to vote needed. The students clearly were not prepared for what they saw but it demonstrated the predicted path of gun control measures in the Florida Legislature.
Cillizza: What’s been the legislature’s stance on gun policy over the past decade or so? More stringent gun laws? Less? Any major legislation either way?
Klas: Florida’s gun laws have gotten more lenient for the last decade as the conservative majority, pushed by gun rights groups, have passed so-called “stand your ground” laws and measures to prevent counties and cities from passing stricter gun laws than the state.
Cillizza: Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, promised gun control legislation that would “move the needle.” Do we have any sense of what he is planning?
Klas: He is expected to embrace the proposal advanced by House and Senate leaders that would be the first limit on gun access in Florida in more than a decade. The plan will raise the age of possession and sale of a semi-automatic weapons from 18 to 21 and apply the three-day waiting period to those sales as well.
Cillizza: What could pass the GOP-controlled state House and Senate? Is there a majority for background checks? Raising the age to buy a gun?
Klas: There appears to be clear support for passage of the plan to raise the age to buy a semi-automatic weapon and increase the requirements of background checks. But the legislation has not yet been filed, so many legislators are withholding a commitment until they see the language.
Cillizza: Finish this sentence: “A year from now, the legislative impact of the pop-up activism by the students of MSD will be considered _________.” Now, explain.
Klas: “incremental but significant.”
Although the initial change will be modest, the fact that it took this tragedy to soften the Florida legislature’s resistance to modifying its gun laws will be remembered in history. The question remains: Will this be the beginning or the end?