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Florida lawmakers united to support gun control measures after the Parkland shooting

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

There's more hope today for an agreement on gun safety measures in Congress. The top Senate Republican, Mitch McConnell, says he intends to support a deal. These bipartisan talks echo a process Florida went through four years ago after shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. NPR's Greg Allen reports on how Florida Republicans and Democrats came together to pass that state's most significant gun control measure in decades.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Seventeen students and adults were killed at the high school in Parkland in February of 2018. Almost immediately, students from the school and family members of those killed and wounded descended on the Capitol in Tallahassee, demanding action from lawmakers and the governor. In signing the bill, Florida's governor at the time, Rick Scott, said he wanted a measure that would make schools safer, provide funds to treat mental illness and, yes, impose restrictions on guns.

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RICK SCOTT: Will this bill gave far more tools to keep guns away from people who should not have them? The answer to all three is yes. And that's why I'm signing the legislation today.

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ALLEN: The measure provided funding to improve security at schools. It also raised the minimum age to 21 for buying a long gun, such as an AR-15-style rifle, and it established a red flag law allowing law enforcement officers to seize the weapons of anyone deemed a threat to themselves or others. A leading Senate Democrat called Florida's law a possible template for federal legislation. When Governor Scott signed the bill, it was the first gun safety legislation adopted in Florida in more than 20 years. Jared Moskowitz, a Democratic House member who represented Parkland, helped win passage of the groundbreaking law. He says it began with a tour he organized. Lawmakers, including Republican House and Senate leaders, visited the scene of the shootings.

JARED MOSKOWITZ: There were bullet holes through the windows and backpacks piled up outside and homework scattered all over the place, blood in the hallway. And they needed to see it and not just sit in their office in Tallahassee and watch it on TV. It was very impactful. I mean, they were all crying. I mean, how could you not be?

ALLEN: To pass it, Democrats had to abandon their push for a ban on semiautomatic rifles like the AR-15-style weapon used in Parkland. Republicans had to turn their backs on the powerful gun lobby and agree to gun control measures they had opposed. Ryan Petty's daughter, Alaina, was one of those killed in Parkland. As a lifetime NRA member, Petty says he struggled with but ultimately supported raising the age for buying a long gun to 21. Later, he says, lawmakers told him the support of families was crucial.

RYAN PETTY: The impact the families had, our message to them communicating the loss and the real magnitude and scope of the Parkland tragedy made all the difference to them.

ALLEN: Bob Gualtieri says there's no doubt the Florida law has prevented violence. He's sheriff in the St. Petersburg area and a big proponent of the state's red flag law. Gualtieri says more than 8,000 red flag orders have been issued in Florida in the last four years, allowing law enforcement to take firearms from troubled individuals.

BOB GUALTIERI: So as everybody talks about prevention and connecting the dots, that's what this is all about, which makes it a very, very good thing.

ALLEN: Rick Scott, now a U.S. senator, speaks proudly of the work that was done to pass Florida's school safety law. But perhaps surprisingly, he's been noncommittal about similar legislation at the federal level. Here's Scott in a recent interview with Bloomberg.

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SCOTT: And I think most of this, we have to focus at the state level because what happens is they know what fits to their state, and you can make changes if it doesn't work right.

ALLEN: The question now in Washington is whether the recent shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo will shake politicians from entrenched positions so they can reach a compromise, like the one passed in Florida. Former Democratic Representative Jared Moskowitz recalls that at the time, the NRA threatened retaliation and primary challenges for any Republican who signed on.

MOSKOWITZ: Not one single incumbent who voted for that bill lost their reelection - not one.

ALLEN: And that includes Florida's former governor, now-Senator Rick Scott. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.