The State Senate voted 22–17 on Tuesday, mainly along party lines, to advance the bill to its final stage: the more conservative State House, according to The Hill. If passed by the House, the new legislation would permit teachers to report to school armed — but only after they’ve passed a psychological test and had at least 144 hours of training at a sheriff’s office. Approval of the school district would also be necessary.
The bill comes more than a year after Florida’s tragic Parkland shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 14 students and three staff members were killed on Feb. 14, 2018. The massacre prompted the state’s lawmakers to enact aggressive gun restrictions, including banning teachers from carrying firearms to class, though other school employees were allowed to be armed.
But a recent state commission investigation into the Parkland shooting found that lives could have been saved if armed faculty members on the inside had intervened in the precious moments before police arrived, especially considering that the shooter left himself vulnerable when he paused five different times to reload, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. This conclusion led Florida lawmakers to do an about-face and seek to overturn the ban on teachers carrying guns.
“Who is first during that first three minutes is key, somebody who could respond,” said Sen. Dennis K. Baxley, who supports the bill.
Florida has been laying the groundwork for armed teachers in schools all along. Of the state’s 67 school districts, 25 have already adopted a “guardian program” for training school staffers who volunteer to carry a gun on campus. If authorized to bear arms, Florida teachers could also utilize the program.
Like other school employees, teachers would only carry guns on a voluntary basis — they would not be required to be armed. But the boundaries are still hazy, as some workers joined the guardian program reluctantly, according to the New York Times, because they felt pressured to comply with a state requirement that every school campus have armed security.
The core argument of Democrats who oppose the idea of armed teachers, though, is that schools should be investing in “real, true, well-trained law enforcement” on campus, as Sen. Bill Montford put it, instead of arming teachers. In fact, many detractors vehemently oppose the bill on the grounds that students will actually feel less safe knowing their teachers are armed, and that this scenario introduces a greater chance of a student being accidentally shot than being saved in the event of a school shooting.
Even Max Schachter, a member of the state commission whose 14-year-old son, Alex, lost his life in the Parkland shooting, opposed arming teachers for the sake of kids’ wellbeing. And many students are saying they don’t want their teachers to bring guns to school at all.
About 150 students demonstrated with the March for Our Lives movement at the State Capitol in Tallahassee recently to oppose the expansion of the existing guardian program. And one Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student, 16-year-old Sari Kaufman, wrote an op-ed for the Sun-Sentinel expressing deep worry and concern over the choice to arm teachers.
In her essay, Kaufman advocated for stricter gun laws, writing, “There are better ways to protect our schools. Research shows that policies that keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them — policies like requiring a criminal background check on every gun sale — actually save lives. There isn’t research that says the same thing about arming teachers.”
Many on social media agreed, with Kamala Harris saying, “Teachers don’t need a gun. They need a raise.”
Teachers don’t need a gun. They need a raise.
We have to give them the resources they need to educate the next generation of leaders. https://t.co/ozXmwea7Y0
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) April 24, 2019
Pay attention to this. This is incredibly dangerous for young Black people who are already punished in schools at far higher rates than their white counterparts and treated as inherently criminal. Reminder that Florida is a Stand Your Ground state. https://t.co/v74SnHyIJb
— Rashad Robinson (@rashadrobinson) April 24, 2019
Employees of my middle/high schools that’ll now be packin’ :
• acting teacher who threw a chair
• janitor who literally murdered two people on campus
• science teacher who named her dog Hitler https://t.co/ka9d50Ykl4
— annabel meschke (@annabel_meschke) April 25, 2019
Black students already face disproportionate violence by teachers and school police compared to their white peers. This is going to get a child shot. https://t.co/pIC8FtUe9S
— human mel (@brahmsposting) April 25, 2019
But supporters of the push to arm teachers are making their voices heard, too. Among them is Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, who expressed his support of trained and entirely voluntary armed teachers back in January.
“If you’re somebody who is working at a school and you are somebody who is trained and has the ability to do it, then you shouldn’t be precluded,” DeSantis said, according to the Pensacola News Journal. “But what I would not do is say, ‘Oh, Miss Jones, you want to teach English? Well, do you have a Glock?’ No. I mean, we should not force anybody to do that.”
Republican Sen. Manny Diaz, also supports the rights of teachers to be armed. He said, “This bill does not arm one single, solitary teacher. What this bill does is provide the 67 school districts, the 67 different communities in this state, with the ability to do what they need to do to protect our kids.” He added, “Those that have law enforcement 20 to 25 minutes away need another option to protect those kids.”
In addition to arming teachers, the new legislation, if it passes, could introduce other safety provisions in school. This could include mental health assessments and revised reporting protocols when it comes to violence and political threats.
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