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After Florida Shooting, Students Are Lobbying For New Gun Regulations


Dozens of students who survived last week's shooting in Parkland, Fla., traveled to Tallahassee today to demand lawmakers act on an assault weapons ban. The Florida House declined. With students in the gallery, lawmakers voted down a motion to take up a ban on weapons such as the AR-15 used to kill 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last week. The students are in the state capitol to lobby state lawmakers and to hold a rally after last week's shooting at their school. Governor Rick Scott has said all options are on the table. Gun control advocates are skeptical since Scott has a perfect A-plus rating from the NRA.

Steve Bousquet is capital bureau chief for the Tampa Bay Times and joins us from Tallahassee. Welcome.


SHAPIRO: Describe the scene at the Capitol today.

BOUSQUET: Well, there's a sense of anticipation, I think. We're in the seventh week of a nine-week legislative session. And of course what happened last week in Broward County has transformed everything. Everyone's been seeing these kids from Marjory Stoneman Douglas on the cable news channels, their passion, their determination. And, you know, it's an interesting thing about Tallahassee. We're closer to Atlanta and New Orleans than we are to South Florida. So it's not an easy thing to get here, which is why those kids were on a bus for seven hours.

SHAPIRO: I know there are a lot of different policy proposals in the state Legislature right now. What's the state of play on actually getting something passed?

BOUSQUET: Yes, well, I think there's a sense among the legislative leadership, all of which is Republican, by the way, and all of which has been very attentive to the National Rifle Association for many years - but there's a growing sense that action is necessary. I've just come from a workshop where sheriffs from across the state have been talking about all the deficiencies they see in Florida. Background checks in the state are sloppy. There aren't enough school resource officers to staff every school.

And so I get a sense that the legislature knows they have to do something. Now, the question is going to be whether it's going to be enough to satisfy, especially on this question of the easy access to which a 19-year-old man got a semiautomatic rifle.

SHAPIRO: What do you think this Republican-controlled legislature can do that will satisfy the voices clamoring for action without alienating their supporters in the NRA?

BOUSQUET: You know, that's the difficult part. I've covered this legislature for about 30 years, and their track record is to nibble around the edges of a serious societal problem and do enough to sort of placate to the clamor in the community. It appears certain they're going to do two or three things. They're going to put a lot more money into mental health counseling in the schools. They're going to increase from 18 to 21 the age that you can buy a semiautomatic rifle.

You have to be 21 to buy a handgun, but you can buy a rifle when you're 18. And thirdly, I think they're going to create what people refer to as a red-flag law or something that would give police the authority to detain people and to intervene more quickly when there is a sign of serious mental illness.

SHAPIRO: And then there's Florida Governor Rick Scott, who some people criticized for his response to the Pulse nightclub shooting. Now this is yet another mass shooting that he's been governor of the state for. How do you expect him to respond to all of this?

BOUSQUET: That's a big unanswered question. Rick Scott was in Parkland today attending another funeral for one of the victims. I think as many people know, he's very interested in running for the United States Senate. He's termed out. This is his last year. He has a consistent pro-gun record and an A-plus ranking from the National Rifle Association. And he's coming under sustained attack by Democrats who say that his lax attitude toward even reasonable gun regulation enable the sort of situation that happened last week in Parkland. He's been an opponent of stricter background checks. He signed a law that no city or county in Florida can have a stricter local gun ordinance than the state says you can have. So his record is clear on these issues.

SHAPIRO: The debate over guns in Florida is not new. One thing that is new this time is the vocal presence of high school students who were there for last week's shooting. Do you think they're going to have an impact on how this plays out?

BOUSQUET: I do, but I'm skeptical that they can create a lot of long-term change. It's an election year in Florida. It's a midterm election in a state that Donald Trump won narrowly. The race for governor here is wide open. But these students have channeled their rage in a way that has gotten everyone's attention. This is an opportunity for the Florida Legislature to be relevant and to act forcefully at a time of crisis for the state.

SHAPIRO: Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times speaking with us from Tallahassee. Thanks for joining us today.

BOUSQUET: Thanks, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.