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Sheriffs: Expand Baker Act, tighten 'background checks'

Florida sheriffs on Tuesday called for more school resource officers, better background checks of gun buyers and giving police power to temporarily seize firearms from people committed under the Baker Act.

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said a Florida resident can be involuntarily committed "15 times within the last month" and can still legally purchase a semi-automatic assault rifle like the one used in last week's massacre at a Broward high school.

Gualtieri said it's "wrong, it's erroneous, it's false" that if confessed mass murderer Nicolas Cruz had been Baker Acted, he couldn't get a gun. Those weapons should be confiscated by police while safeguarding a patient's due process rights, he said.

The sheriff also said there's no such thing as a background check on Florida gun buyers. Gun shops check for two things: a buyer's qualifying felony or a court adjudication that the buyer is mentally ill.

"It's not a background check. It's very limited and narrow in scope," Gualtieri said.

Gualtieri also voiced frustration with legislators not  seriously considering allowing principals to designate some teachers as able to carry a concealed weapon on campus.

"This isn't new," Gualtieri said. Referring to the Legislature, he said: "Nobody's willing to get off the dime and do something about it."

Sheriffs and police chiefs from more than a dozen cities and counties met in Tallahassee at the direction of Gov. Rick Scott after the mass shooting six days ago at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, where a gunman confessed to killing 14 students and three faculty members.

The changes sought by the sheriffs all have one thing in common: They cost a lot of money, and the Legislature has not increased money for safe schools for nearly a decade.

"Safe school appropriations have to increase," Okaloosa County Sheriff Larry Ashley said.

Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco said he has 37 school resource officers to cover 92 schools. At a minimum, sheriffs said, the Legislature must spend enough money to pay for a school resource officer in every school.

Coconut Creek Police Chief Albert "Butch" Arenal, the only Broward official at the workshop, said he lives blocks from the scene of last week's shooting and that his wife is afraid to send their child back to school.

"Something has to be done right now so that people feel comfortable sending their kids back to school," Arenal said.