OUR POSITION: The 2018 legislation took positive action toward greater school safety. Let the law work without the sideline controversy involving the slim possibility of teachers carrying guns.
This week, a key state Senate committee took the unfortunate step of advancing a bill that would allow teachers to carry firearms in the classroom.
The vote came the week of the one-year anniversary of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where 17 people were shot to death and another 17 were injured.
The Parkland killing was such a shock the Florida Legislature quickly acted to increase funding for school security and to ensure all schools had at least one school resource officer on campus. The new law signed by Gov. Rick Scott outlawed the sale of so-called “bump stocks” – something vociferously fought by the National Rifle Association, which, before this, had a stranglehold on the Legislature.
Also in defiance of the NRA, legislators increased the minimum age for gun purchases from 18 to 21 years old. The new law requires a three-day waiting period for all gun purchases. It also gave police and courts more authority to seize weapons of people deemed mentally unfit.
All positive steps forward.
Along with that came a provision allowing armed “guardian program” that would allow certain designated school staff to carry weapons. These would have what seemed to be an appropriate level of training and oversight. Most important, in our view, the law left adoption and implementation of a guardian program to local school districts. Our districts have not done so.
Left out of the legislation was the controversial provision to allow everyday teachers – again with an appropriate level of training and supervision — to be armed with guns. This provision was dropped after widespread opposition from teachers, gun-control advocates, the public reflected in polls and, finally, Scott himself.
It’s back again, though, and political analysts believe it may have a clearer path this year. The Senate Education Committee — meeting before the full Legislature convenes next month — approved expansion of the guardian program to include teachers. Critically, newly elected Gov. Ron DeSantis supports the measure.
On the face of it, there is a real appeal to the idea that armed, well-qualified adults in the classroom might be able to fight off the random attacker. Simple enough.
Note that the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, which recently completed a 458-page report on the incident, also endorsed the idea. Commission Chairman and Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who said he changed his mind during the course of the commission investigation, argues that, in some cases, teachers with guns – highly trained, former military or police officers who have become teachers – the positive might outweigh risk.
Still, we are not comfortable with the idea. The large majority of teachers in this state are not comfortable with it. We believe most parents are not comfortable with the notion that teachers might be armed. Many law enforcement professionals are not, either, including Charlotte County Sheriff Bill Prummell. They would rather leave school security to the paid professionals whose primary purpose is to protect citizens.
And then, most school districts in Florida have not adopted the guardian program as it exists now. Why expand it now?
On the surface, arming teachers – again, those rare teachers who have an appropriate background – sounds like it might help. But we’ve already taken enormous steps to enhance school security – well beyond the security that exists in nearly all other vulnerable public spaces.
The risk of an armed semi-professional in the hallways every day still seems far greater than the potential safety benefit in the extremely rare case of a random attack. It’s not something we can endorse, or that the public should endorse — certainly not so soon after the heightened safety measures of 2018 were put in place.