‘Always more work to be done’: a look on how Parkland changed Florida’s gun and school safety laws

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — As the families of the 21 victims killed in Uvalde, Texas, struggle to cope with the loss of their loved ones, the tragedy is being felt in communities around the country that have experienced similar acts of violence, including in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people lost their lives in a 2018 school shooting.

That tragedy led to the most impactful, bipartisan legislation on gun control and school safety the state had seen in decades.

Hearing the news of the Texas school shooting, Tony Montalto was transported back to February 14, 2018, when he learned his daughter Gina had been murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

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“Losing your child is truly unimaginable. The pain you feel, the hurt,” said Montalto.

Former Parkland Mayor Christine Hunschofsky recalls showing up to the school in the midst of the chaos.

“I remember the students exiting the school and just kind of falling into their parents’ arms,” said state Rep. Hunschofsky (D-Coconut Creek).

Just one week after the deadly shooting, thousands descended on the grounds of the State Capitol, demanding the GOP-controlled legislature act on gun control and school safety.

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On March 9 of that year, then-Gov. Rick Scott signed into law the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act.

The act contained more funding for school mental health, behavioral threat assessments, more school resource officers, a provision raising the age to purchase all firearms to 21 and a “red flag” law allowing courts to take firearms from people considered threats.

“That has been used 5,000 times, I’ve been told, in the state of Florida and that’s incredible,” said Hunschofsky.

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Both Montalto and Hunschofsky worked to advocate for the legislation and have continued working to improve school safety laws ever since.

In the years following Parkland, the Florida Legislature has passed continued improvements to school safety.

“They all combine into a mosaic to make our children safer here in Florida,” said Montalto.

In the immediate wake of the Texas tragedy, Hunschofsky urged now is not a time to relent.

“There is always room for continuous improvement in these areas,” said Hunschofsky.

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