Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam told a public affairs group Monday that the keys to curtailing gun violence at schools are to improve the state's mental health programs and to tighten campus security.
The Florida agriculture commissioner told the Forum Club that he opposed a state bill passed after February's Stoneman Douglas massacre that raised the age for buying a rifle from 18 to 21. He says 19-year-old suspect Nikolas Cruz's history of mental health problems and brushes with law enforcement are the issue, saying Cruz "should not have had a gun at 18, at 21 or 51." Fourteen students and three staff members died in the attack.
"He was a sick individual," Putnam told an audience of about 650 club members and guests. He said the state's law called the Baker Act that allows people exhibiting mental health issues to be hospitalized up to three days for evaluation needs to be strengthened, saying they are often released within hours.
He said the rural high school his children attend hasn't been strengthened since before his parents attended decades ago, adding it is too easy for outsiders to walk onto many Florida campuses. Investigators say Cruz, a former Stoneman Douglas student, entered the campus through an unlocked gate and then followed students into the building where the shooting happened.
"We have to make changes to our campus layouts, to make improvements to harden our schools," said Putnam, 43. He is completing his second term as agriculture commissioner after 10 years in Congress and four years in the state Legislature.
He said Florida needs to hire more school resource officers, the police officers and sheriff's deputies assigned to protect campuses. He pointed out that Stoneman Douglas only had one armed guard for its 3,300 students.
On another issue, Putnam said he supports President Donald Trump's threatened tariffs on some foreign goods, even if that leads to a trade war that causes other countries to impose tariffs on Florida produce. He said the state's farmers are being hurt by Mexico and other countries exporting fruits and vegetables at a price that is lower than it costs to produce.
"We have to operate under fair trade agreements that are also enforced. We have had neither," Putnam said. "The deal we currently have for Florida agriculture could not be any worse."
Putnam repeatedly needled his main announced rival in the August primary, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, for missing the event after the Forum Club says he agreed to attend.
"If you can't show up and answer tough questions from members of the media, how are you going to lead the third-largest state?" Putnam said.
DeSantis spokesman Brad Herrold said in an email that the congressman never committed to attending the forum and had a conflicting event. He said "there will be plenty of time for us to make our case about why Ron DeSantis, who's an Iraq Veteran and conservative endorsed by President Trump will make a better Governor than career politician and special interest favorite, Adam Putnam."
Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran is also expected to enter the Republican race to replace Gov. Rick Scott, who is constitutionally barred from seeking a third four-year term.
Democratic candidates include former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Orlando-area businessman Chris King.
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