A growing bipartisan number of US state governors have joined calls for a reconsideration of gun laws and school safety measures after the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, a sign that resulting legislative changes could extend far beyond that state in the coming months.
The impact of the shootings rippled through the winter meeting of the National Governors Association in Washington this weekend, as state leaders expressed willingness to consider new limits on gun ownership and stepped up efforts to address mental-health factors. But most said they were opposed to US President Donald Trump’s proposal to allow more teachers to be armed.
The comments came as students and grieving families continued to push lawmakers to pass new measures to address the murder of 17 students and faculty members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“I just want to get the word out to the governors of every state that they have to do something today,” said Andrew Pollack, whose daughter, Meadow Pollack, was killed at the school, in an interview on Fox News Sunday. “My daughter’s death can’t be in vain.”
Individual governors said they would be open to raising the age limit for the purchase of long guns to 21, a measure opposed by the National Rifle Association (NRA), or said they believed there should be better ways for family members or others to take concerns about unstable individuals to a judge and have weapons confiscated.
Both measures were endorsed on Friday (Saturday NZT) by Florida’s Republican governor, Rick Scott, a longtime supporter of the NRA, who opposed new gun laws after the 2016 mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Florida and the 2017 mass shooting at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
“What I ask people to do is, you’ve got to search your heart on this,” Ohio Governor John Kasich, a Republican, said Sunday in an interview on ABC’s This Week.
“Nobody wants to take everybody’s guns away. Nobody wants to repeal the Second Amendment – oh, a few people. But this is about reasonable approaches to keep our community safe.”
Like other Republicans, Kasich has shifted his position in recent weeks, even removing pro-Second Amendment language from his website and replacing it with a call for “common sense” on the issue of guns.
He won re-election with the endorsement of the NRA, but he now says he is open to reconsidering a ban on the sale of assault weapons such as the AR-15 police say was used in the Florida shooting.
Other Republicans have said they are taking a fresh look at the gun issue. “Obviously it’s being a catalyst to bring that discussion to the forefront,” said Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. “We’ve had too many of these shootings. We should be trying to find common ground and move them ahead.”
Snyder also said he hoped for “a very open discussion” on a so-called red flag law to make it easier to take weapons out of the hands of unstable individuals after petitioning a court. Michigan does not currently have such a law.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, a Republican, said he was open to moves to deny assault rifles to those under 21. “I haven’t heard a good answer to ‘why should a 20-year-old be able to buy an assault rifle and not a beer?'” he said.
“The issue around bump stocks [which turn single-shot guns into ones that can fire bursts of multiple rounds], I don’t hear a lot of people defending why we should have that.”
Democratic governors were pointed in calls for their fellow Republicans to buck the NRA and praised Scott for the measures he is taking in Florida.
“You’re seeing some of the Republicans show some tiny glimmer of throwing off the masters of the NRA,” said Washington Governor Jay Inslee, a Democrat. “The youthful voices (calling for steps to restrict guns) have been very powerful and very inspirational.”
The NRA opposes a ban on the sale of assault weapons and is waiting to review legislative language before it takes a position on a new proposal to allow the removal of guns from people deemed a threat in Florida.
“There are laws on the books in Florida that would have prevented this tragedy, and it is mind-boggling that focus isn’t on the systematic breakdown and the many failures to implement those current laws instead of punishing law-abiding gun-owners for the acts of a deranged person by taking away their constitutional right to self-protection,” said Jennifer Baker, an NRA spokeswoman.
The proposals come as Trump and some congressional leaders have called for possible actions on the federal level. These could include a bipartisan measure to improve the information that states provide to the federal background check system, a renewed effort to require background checks for private gun sales and an effort to raise the federal minimum age for long gun purchases to 21.
Federal law requires purchasers of handguns from a licensed gun dealer to be 21, but the minimum age for buying rifles and shotguns is set at 18. The alleged shooter in Parkland, Nikolas Cruz, 19, legally purchased the weapon police say he used.
“The role of the federal government obviously can spur the issues in terms of the grant funding, and hopefully that will be available to us,” Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, said during an appearance Sunday on CBS’ Face the Nation. “But largely the security side and the safety side will be the governors.”
Governors interviewed during the NGA meeting said for the most part that they did not have proposals ready to take to their legislatures and said that, with limited time in legislative sessions, action might not be speedy.
A number of governors said they opposed arming teachers, saying that educators should teach and not become law enforcement officers. “Putting more guns into the mix is not something I believe is an answer,” Snyder said.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, said his state already has moved to do exactly as Trump has proposed and that at this point nearly 20 per cent of Texas schools have trained and armed educators.
There are signs outside schools in the Argyle Independent School District that read, “Please be aware that the staff at Argyle ISD are armed and may use whatever force is necessary to protect our students.”
The Texas governor said the culture of his state is different from some others and that opposition to restrictions on guns is strong. But he also said the Florida shooting could become a pivotal moment in moving forward on other factors that could contribute a reduction in mass shootings like the one that occurred at the First Baptist Church in November in Sutherland Spring, Texas.
“When a shooting takes place, people want to rush to simple solutions,” Abbott said. “It’s time to tackle the tough solutions, and that’s mental health.”
Meanwhile, the Democratic governors of Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island announced the creation of a four-state compact to establish a task force to trace and intercept guns and a consortium for research on gun violence.
“We’re at the point where we’re allowing ourselves to be terrorised by ourselves,” Democratic Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said on ABC’s This Week. “If you want to weaken this country, what better way to do it than to make children afraid to go to school?”