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Florida lawmakers agree to advance bill to restrict gun purchases

Florida lawmakers agree to advance bill to restrict gun purchases
The Florida Senate, shown on Feb. 21, held an unusual Saturday session. (Mark Wallheiser / Associated Press)

The Florida Senate agreed to advance a bill that would increase school safety and restrict gun purchases during a rare Saturday session that often turned into a debate on gun control and arming teachers in the aftermath of last month's Parkland school shootings.

The Senate spent nearly eight hours debating dozens of amendments to the 100-page bill before approving the legislation for a final vote on Monday.

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Democratic proposals to ban assault rifles and large-capacity magazines were rejected, as was a Democratic proposal to strip language from the bill that would create a program to arm teachers who have gone through law-enforcement training if school districts choose to take part in the so-called marshal plan.

The Senate began the session at 10 a.m. and was originally supposed to wrap up discussion by 1 p.m. But senators extended the session and didn't end until after 6 p.m.

It was clear that senators were divided on the bill, and not just on party lines. Though Republicans crafted the legislation, some GOP senators still opposed it because they don't agree with raising the minimum age to buy a rifle from 18 to 21 or requiring a waiting period to buy one.

Democrats believe the legislation doesn't go far enough in some ways and too far in others. And while some oppose the bill, others believe it's at least a first step toward gun safety.

Democrats want to ban weapons such as the AR-15 assault-style rifle, which was used to kill 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14. Many also oppose arming teachers. The bill also includes provisions to boost school security, establish new mental health programs in schools, and improve communication among schools, law enforcement and state agencies.

But much of the debate Saturday revolved around gun control and whether people should have a right to own an assault rifle.

"Every constitutional right that we hold dear has a limitation," said Democratic Sen. Gary Farmer. "These are just military-style killing machines, and the right of self-defense and the ability to hunt will go on."

Republicans argued that banning such weapons would violate the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms.

"Our founding fathers weren't talking about hunting, and they weren't talking about protecting themselves from the thief down the street who might break in," said Republican Sen. David Simmons. Simmons said people need guns to protect themselves from a tyrannical government.

"Adolf Hitler confiscated all the weapons — took all the weapons, had a registry of everybody — and then on the night of June 30, 1934, sent out his secret police and murdered all of his political opponents," Simmons said.

The Legislature wraps up its annual session Friday.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott has been lobbying lawmakers to pass his plan to assign at least one law enforcement officer for every 1,000 students at a school. Scott is opposed to arming teachers.

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