Parkland parents urge lawmakers to go forward with school safety reforms

Many disagree with plan to arm school employees

By Glenna Milberg - Reporter, Tim Swift - Digital Editor

PARKLAND, Fla. - They come from different politics and perspectives though now they are united as parents all living the same profound loss.

 “What do we do know? We need to make schools safe again,” Lori Alhadeff, whose 14-year-old daughter, Alyssa, was among the 17 people killed in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14.

These parents are now activists. On Monday, they called on the Florida Senate and House to support Gov. Rick Scott’s plan for school security and mental health initiatives.

Scott has proposed a number of changes to the state’s gun laws in response to the deaths in Parkland. Scott wants to increase the age requirement to buy weapons like the AR-15 rifle used by Parkland gunman 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz from 18 to 21.

“We hope the Legislature can push forward and give him something he can sign into law that will make our children safer,” said Tony Montalto whose daughter Gina, 14, died in the shooting.

Scott also supports banning bump stocks, equipment that make semi-automatic rifles fire faster. Although bump stocks weren't a factor in the Parkland shooting; the equipment was used in a mass shooting in Las Vegas in October that killed more than 50 people.

Many Parkland students and parents have strongly pressed state lawmakers to ban semi-automatic weapons including the AR-15 rifle. Repeated attempts to pass such a ban have failed in the both the Florida House and Senate in recent weeks.

Meanwhile, the National Rifle Association and other pro-gun lawmakers, including President Donald Trump, have proposed arming educators as a way to deter mass shootings at schools. Florida lawmakers have since added a voluntary “school marshal” program to the slate of gun reform and school safely measures.

One parent, Andrew Pollack, whose 18-year-old daughter, Meadow, was one of the victims, has been outspoken supporter of the marshal program.

A vote Wednesday in the Florida Senate scaled back the program to arm school staff, but not classroom teachers. Provisions to raise the age to buy a weapon and ban bump stocks also advanced. Now the bill moves on to the House.

However, Scott opposes the school marshal program along with the state’s teachers unions and other Parkland parents and students.

While many Parkland parents disagree with the concept of introducing more weapons into schools, some worry the other changes, which they do support, will not move forward without the marshal program.

Max Schachter, the father of 14-year-old victim Alex Schachter, organized a commission to learn best practices for safe schools. The group met with safety experts from around the country for the first time Monday.

“I said, ‘Is the solution to put more guns in the hands of teachers?’ Everyone said no. Not a single expert says that was a good idea,” Schachter said.

That controversial component of the state House and Senate bills was the focus of a roundtable discussion held by U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz, a Weston Democrat, on Wednesday.

“Legislators are advocating this arming teachers proposal can say whatever they want about it being voluntary,” Wasserman Shultz said. “In my experience, eventually some pro-gun legislator in (Tallahassee) will decide that enough school boards didn't pass this arming teachers program, and they’ll step up and make legislation to make it mandatory.”

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