16 Feb 2018

Florida shooting: Sheriff calls for tougher gun laws for mentally ill

10:56 am on 16 February 2018

A Florida Sheriff has demanded tougher gun laws for the mentally ill, including being able to involuntarily have people examined by mental health professionals.

Broward County Sheriff, Scott Israel (C), Florida Governor Rick Scott.

Broward County sheriff Scott Israel, left, and Florida governor Rick Scott. Photo: AFP

Nikolas Cruz has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder after one of the deadliest school shootings in US history yesterday.

Ex-student Cruz, walked into a Florida high school and opened fire on staff and students with an AR-15-style rifle.

The attack is the 18th in a US school this year according to gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety.

It has once again stirred the long-simmering US debate on the right to bear arms, which is protected by the Second Amendment of the US Constitution.

Broward County sheriff Scott Israel said police needed tougher gun rules for those with disturbing mental health issues.

"We need to have the power to take that person and bring them before mental health professionals at that particular time, involuntarily, and have them examined," Mr Israel said.

"People are going to be, rightfully so, concerned about their rights, as am I.

"But what about the rights of these students."

US President Donald Trump has called for healing and peace but did not address the issue of gun control, saying his administration would work to improve school safety and address mental illness.

Republican Florida governor Rick Scott, who has supported gun ownership rights, said he plans to speak soon with lawmakers on keeping schools safe and finding ways to make sure people with mental illness cannot access firearms.

"The violence has to stop," he said without mentioning any specific gun control policy proposals.

US House of Representatives speaker Paul Ryan said lawmakers should close any possible legal gaps that could allow the mentally ill to obtain guns, after Congress ended expanded background checks tied to mental health problems.

"As you know mental health is often a big problem underlying these tragedies," he said.

"We want to make sure that if someone is in the mental health system that they do not get a gun if they should not have a gun."

Last year, Congress passed a resolution that eliminated expanded background checks for gun purchasers receiving Social Security benefits for a mental impairment, which Republican lawmakers had said deprived the mentally ill of their gun rights.

Because the resolution, signed by Mr Trump, was passed under the Congressional Review Act regulators can never enact similar requirements in the future.

Broward County schools superintendent Robert Runcie called for action on gun laws.

"Now is the time for this country to have a real conversation on sensible gun control laws in this country," he said.

Democrats in the US House of Representatives sharply criticized the Republican leadership for refusing to take up legislation on tightening background checks for prospective gun buyers.

"It's appalling," Representative Mike Thompson told a news conference.

"Thirty people every day are killed by someone using a gun, and the best we can do is say we need more information?"

Florida gets failing grade for its gun laws - study

Gun laws in Florida received a failing grade and need to be fixed to save lives, according to a study on Thursday from a center to prevent firearm violence.

The findings in an annual survey from the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence also said U.S. states with strong gun safety laws have fewer average gun death than states with weaker laws.

Florida also had one of the worst mass shootings in modern US history when a gunman killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016.

To raise its grade, Florida should enact universal background checks, regulate firearm dealers and repeal its "Stand Your Ground," self-defence law that critics say allow people too much leeway to pull the trigger.

- Reuters / BBC / RNZ

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