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Florida Legislators Pressured To Address Gun Violence

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In the generations-long debate in this country over guns, this week has been truly remarkable. We heard students - survivors from the Parkland, Fla., shooting - confront lawmakers and a spokesperson for the NRA face-to-face. We saw grieving parents plead with the president of the United States to do something about mass shootings. President Trump responded and has suggested several measures, including tightening up background checks and raising the age for people who want to buy assault-style weapons. At the same time, though, the president put a lot of responsibility on states.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: A lot of states are starting to act on their own. They don't necessarily need a hundred percent from the federal government. Federal government's going to help a lot, but a lot of states can do some of the things that I'm talking about on their own. And I really implore them to do it and to do it as quickly as possible.

MARTIN: Let's meet a state lawmaker who is trying to do something. Republican Jason Brodeur is working with Democrats in the Florida state legislature to come up with some bipartisan compromises on gun control. He joins us now. Thank you so much for being with us.

JASON BRODEUR: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: So you don't have a ton of time. The Florida state legislature session ends March 9. What are you proposing, and how are you going to get the votes you need?

BRODEUR: Well, I think one of the things we need to do is try and figure out exactly what we need to do in order to make sure that an incident like this doesn't happen again in the state of Florida. The more that we are learning about the Parkland incident, the more we think that there were a lot of good things that were already in place, we just didn't necessarily have the personnel that was going to implement them. We know that for years, this individual had been contacted by different state agencies and law enforcement, yet they did not detain or counteract any of this that happened.

MARTIN: You're talking about the shooter. So you're focused, I hear you saying, on making sure communication between agencies is improved. But are you calling for specific gun-control measures?

BRODEUR: Well, I think one of the things that has gotten some traction with my colleagues is establishing new restrictions on the purchase of ownership of firearms to make sure that you have to be 21 years old for - except for those in law enforcement and active military personnel - to purchase a weapon, have a three-day waiting period unless you have a concealed weapons permit or you've completed the hunter safety courses. And during that...

MARTIN: Any weapon or just assault-style weapons when you talk about bumping up the age?

BRODEUR: That's true now for handguns. It'll be true for long weapons as well.

MARTIN: So as we know, an AR-15 was used to kill those 17 people at at the high school there in Parkland, Fla. Students from that school are calling for an outright ban to that weapon. Is that something you would support?

BRODEUR: No. I think one of the things we need to make sure we understand is that this was a severely ill - mental health - mentally ill individual, and that we really should be putting the onus on what we're doing to enhance restrictions on purchase who are subjected to involuntary examination by law enforcement or medical professionals.

I think one of the things that we need to remember is that when we take somebody's liberty - and that's law-abiding citizens - we need to do so very carefully. And we need to make sure that it is done in a way that allows for the individual to have a restoration of their rights if they can, in some way, petition that they are not or should not be adjudicated mentally ill. That is the debate I think we should be having about. Two years' worth of threatening posts from this individual and he was not in any way detained.

MARTIN: Let me ask you about your own history on the issue of gun control. In 2011, you sponsored a bill that would have fined doctors if they asked their patients if they had guns in their home. That passed the state legislature in Florida. It was overturned in a federal court. But gun control advocates would characterize that as a rather extreme position. Have you reconsidered that? Have you changed the way you think about guns?

BRODEUR: Well, I think one of the things that needs to happen is we need to be honest about what actually passed. The story keeps being written that that was the bill that passed. That was not the bill that passed. The bill that passed simply said that you cannot ask if it has nothing to do with your medical treatment. If you're a father who's on Medicaid bringing your 3-year-old child in for an earache, you should not be conditioning treatment as to whether or not somebody owns a gun, that the child's there for an earache. That was what the bill that passed was.

MARTIN: We should say doctors believe and physicians believe that it's a public health issue to understand if there is a weapon in the home.

BRODEUR: Well, it's a public health issue to make sure that if somebody has a weapon in the home, they have all the knowledge that they need to make sure that they have control of that to make sure that they are safe with it, the same with extra prescription drugs, the same with outlets in Florida in particular. It's the same if you have a swimming pool. There is nothing in the bill that prohibits that.

MARTIN: So do you still support that?

BRODEUR: Yeah. There's nothing in the bill that prohibits a safety talk. It prohibits conditioning treatment upon the act - upon somebody exercising their civil right. But that has nothing to do with what we're talking about now, which is mental health individuals and coordination of care for those who have been identified as mentally incompetent.

MARTIN: Would you, as part of your effort to reach out to Democrats now, are you looking for more state funding for mental health as part of this effort?

BRODEUR: I think that has to be part of it, that when we're talking about a wholesale coordination and information sharing of system improvements, whether that's school hardening for technical and security resources, whether that's creating affirmative obligations for personnel in schools, I think there has to be more funding to help support that.

MARTIN: In seconds remaining, what's your message to the students who traveled hundreds of miles to Tallahassee to say they don't feel like you've done enough?

BRODEUR: Well, we've heard you. And we are going to be the first state to act to make sure that this doesn't happen again.

MARTIN: Jason Brodeur, Republican from the state legislature in Florida. Thanks so much.

BRODEUR: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.