How Florida gun laws changed after the Parkland school shooting

Published: May 26, 2022 3:17 PM EDT
Updated: June 7, 2022 11:18 AM EDT

The school shooting in Texas has evoked emotions in all of us because of the young victims and more senseless violence.

It is a reminder of what Florida went through in 2018 at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Progress has been made in Florida, but there is still work to be done.

Florida strengthened several laws after Parkland. Now, we’ll have to wait to see if our lawmakers think that’s enough.

1,192 days before the mass shooting in a Texas elementary school, there was a mass shooting in a Florida school.

“In the aftermath of Parkland, Florida did actually adopt several gun control measures,” said FGCU Political Science Professor Aubrey Jewett.

Our own tragedy prompted our lawmakers to make changes and pass bills to prevent any more loss of life. Jewett walked WINK News through the laws now on the books.

First, there’s gun control. Gun sales for most Floridians under 21 are illegal.

“And historically that is just something that Florida hadn’t been willing to do,” said Jewett.

The shooting also prompted red flag laws. Law enforcement agencies can file ‘Risk Protection Orders’ against people who might be a threat and take away their guns.

There are nearly 3,000 active Risk Protection Orders (RPO) in Florida right now.

“Some areas of the state are using it quite a bit. Other areas don’t seem to be using it very much at all,” said Jewett.

He’s right. Between Lee, Charlotte, and Collier counties, more than 350 RPOs have been filed.

The Hendry County sheriff said his department has only filed one.

“I’m very cautious on red flag laws. Believe it or not, I’m a constitutionalist. I believe in our constitution and people’s rights. However, you know, in our certain situation, I can tell you that the red flag law worked,” said Hendry County Sheriff Steve Whidden.

There’s also the Guardian Program. Whidden’s district is also the only local district that implemented the Guardian Program.

“That allowed either volunteers or staff members or even teachers to become official guardians at the school, and they would be allowed to carry weapons or have access to a weapon locked up at school,” said Jewett.

Other proposals still on the table in Florida include more money for mental health screening in schools and expanding red flag laws so families of gun owners can initiate an RPO instead of just law enforcement officers.

The guardians in the Guardian Program are in addition to school resource officers.

Robb Elementary School doesn’t look like a school anymore. It’s a crime scene.

No sheriff wants this to happen in their town.

“If the money’s not there to fortify our schools like prisons, we have to be able to put, you know, multiple people in the schools who are actually able to stop a shooter,” said Whidden.

Hendry County is the only one in Southwest Florida to participate in the Guardian Program, a statewide initiative that allows trained volunteers to act as armed guards in schools.

“I’m not saying that the guardian program is 100% guaranteed to save all lives. I mean, truthfully, in most cases, you won’t know you have an active shooter on campus until the first shot goes off,” said Whidden.

Sheriff Whidden believes participating in the program does deter shooters.

“They want to make a national statement; they want a body count. And when people plan things like this, if they know that there are schools in certain counties, where they don’t know how many people are armed inside, they don’t know how far they’re going to get. They don’t know how much damage they can do. Well, unfortunately, they’re going to and I hate to say this, but they want to try to plan for somewhere else to do it,” Whidden said.

Sheriff Whidden knows lots of people don’t like guns in schools. When he advocated for the program in Hendry County, he got pushback.

“I said, listen, if you can so one question for me, I will take this off the table and we will not do it. I said it tomorrow morning, an active shooter is standing in our cafeteria at 11 o’clock a.m. How do you propose to stop him from killing our kids without a firearm?” said Whidden.

Of the 69 districts in the state 45 currently have guardian programs. Guardians must pass psychological and drug screenings and complete a minimum of 144 hours of training.