The Corner

Politics & Policy

Governor Scott Should Veto the Florida Gun Bill

Florida governor Rick Scott

The Florida legislature has rushed through a bill in response to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Governor Scott should veto it.

The bill, which passed with far more Republican than Democratic support, has four main provisions: It provides almost half a billion dollars to train certain school officials to carry weapons; it raises the age at which Floridians may purchase rifles to 21, but leaves possession alone; it extends the state’s mandatory three-day waiting period to rifles (FL already has this rule for handguns), with an exception for those with carry permits; and it enhances the ban on firearms ownership by the mentally ill. The bill also provides the police with modest powers to temporarily remove firearms from anyone whom a judge has ruled “poses a significant danger of causing personal injury to himself or herself or others.”

Governor Scott opposes two of these provisions—permitting school staff to carry weapons in school, and imposing a three-day waiting period on the purchase of long guns—and he has repeatedly said so. In opposing the “armed teachers” provision, he lines up with Democrats in the state who so vehemently object to the idea that they voted against it as a caucus. In objecting to the three-day waiting period, he lines up with conservatives who believe—correctly, in my view—that waiting periods do nothing of consequence to stop crime, and that, in the case of long guns, they cannot even be said to limit suicide. In other words, Scott agrees with both of the objections that made this legislative debate so fractious. He doesn’t like the main concession the Democrats made, and he doesn’t like the main concession the Republicans made. He should veto the bill.

In all likelihood, he will not. The parents of those murdered at the school all want to see something pass, and have told him as much. And, if he wants to run for the Senate, he presumably doesn’t want to see the inevitable “Governor Vetoes Gun Safety Bill!” chyrons accompanied by footage of crying children. Nevertheless, it would be an entirely reasonable move. Substantively, it is a bad piece of work, having been cobbled together while emotions ran high at the very end of the annual session. Nobody, as far as I can tell, is pleased with the result. Optically, he would enjoy cover from both sides. Because the final product contained the provision arming some school officials, most Democrats voted against it. Because he has made the same criticisms from the outset, Scott could provide the same explanations for his veto as did they, and not appear disingenuous.

What about the politics of such a move? Would Scott destroy his chances at defeating Bill Nelson in November’s Senate race? Here, the outlook is mixed. On the one hand, signing it seems unlikely to help Scott a great deal politically. Whatever he does, he is not going to out-gun-control Bill Nelson, who favors a ban on so-called “assault weapons,” limits on the size of magazines, and possibly even the prohibition of all semi-automatic weapons. Likewise, whatever he does, he is not going to win the Democrats with whom he agrees on “arming teachers.” Moreover, there is a possibility, if he signs it, that he will depress conservative support and alienate exactly the sort of motivated voters he’d need to win what would presumably be an extremely close election. On the other hand, the media has formed something akin to a Gun Control SuperPAC since the shooting, and would likely relish the chance to make the whole campaign about this issue. As he has in the past, Scott will need to run to the center, and signing this bill would be a way of deflecting the charges that he is against “all gun control” or that he doesn’t care about dead children.

Still, optics are not everything, and should not be the sole consideration. It’s a long time until November. This is bad policy, and Scott knows it. Among others, his job as governor is to prevent bad policy from becoming law. He should veto the bill.

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