At site of Parkland school shooting, Harris announces new tool to curb gun violence

At the still blood-stained site of the worst school shooting in Florida history, Vice President Kamala Harris announced a new measure on Saturday to curb gun violence.

Walking alongside the families of victims, Harris toured the hallways where Nikolas Cruz shot and killed 14 students and three faculty members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

The building — set to be demolished this summer — is still preserved from previous criminal and civil trials related to the shooting.

Vice President Kamala Harris departs after speaking to the media at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Saturday, March 23, 2024. The VP and the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention met with families whose loved ones were murdered during the 2018 mass shooting that took the lives of 14 students and three staff members.

During the visit, Harris, who is the leader of the White House’s Office of Gun Violence Prevention, announced the launch of the National Extreme Risk Protection Order Resource Center.

“This National Resource Center will be a place where we will provide training for local leaders on how to use red flag laws and keep communities safe. So these are just some of the ways that we can learn from what happened here and of course I will continue to advocate for what we must do in terms of universal background checks and assault weapons ban,” said Harris during her speech in the gymnasium of Stoneman Douglas.

Red flag laws allow family members or law enforcement officials to get court orders that temporarily take away access to guns if they feel a gun owner may harm themselves or others.

Passed just three weeks after the 2018 Parkland massacre, Florida’s “red flag” law continues to be viewed as a potential blueprint by some other states.

The families of students who were killed during the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School six years ago react as Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during a visit to the school in Parkland on Saturday, March 23, 2024. From left are Tony and Jennifer Montalto, parents of Gina; Anne Ramsay, mother of Helena; and Fred and Jennifer Guttenberg, parents of Jaime.

READ MORE: Why the vice president’s Parkland visit still matters 6 years after school shooting

For the first time in Florida, the law tied the right to possess or own a weapon to mental health and spelled out the legal steps to take guns away under certain circumstances. But there are no guarantees, as seen in a recent police-involved shooting in Fort Lauderdale.

The man who shot and wounded the police officer in a Fort Lauderdale hotel room on Thursday had a history of arrests and mental health problems severe enough that police invoked Florida’s touted ‘red flag’ law to take his guns away two years ago. But that was only temporary.

Republican U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, who was Florida’s governor at the time of the shooting, released a statement on Saturday ahead of Harris’ visit calling some of the Biden administration’s efforts on gun safety “unacceptable.”

Shortly after the shooting, Scott signed into law the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, which raised the age to purchase a rifle to 21 and created the state’s red flag law and a program to arm trained school faculty, among other aspects.

In his statement, Scott said that the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act “stands in stark contrast to the Biden-Harris administration’s push for nationwide implementation of radical policies, like California’s red flag law, which abandons due process to more quickly and easily take constitutional rights away from law-abiding Americans.”

He then urged Harris to join him in the passage of violence prevention legislation that he supports.

The Florida Democratic Party also released a statement early Saturday saying that Harris’ visit shows her and Biden’s “commitment” to Florida and also called out Florida Republicans that attempted to roll back one of the components of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act by trying and failing to bring the age to purchase a rifle back down to 18 in the two previous legislative sessions.

During the event, Harris urged states that haven’t passed red flag laws to do so. For those that already have red flag laws in place, Harris encouraged them to use federal funding under the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act to help bolster their programs.

“Every one of the states that have passed red flag laws, approximately 21, only six have taken up the offer that we have made through our administration of federal resources to help them with the training and the implementation of these red flag laws,” Harris said.

The Biden administration pushed forward the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act in 2022, which strengthened background checks for gun buyers under 21, provided funds for mental health services, school safety programming and state crisis intervention programming which include red flag programs.

Before Harris concluded her speech and walked out of the building, she shook the hands of various Parkland families and pointed to their advocacy efforts as “motivation and inspiration” to do more to push forward school and gun safety measures.