Florida governor sent bill to arm teachers | News Coverage from USA

Florida governor sent bill to arm teachers

TALLAHASSEE, Florida – After two days of heated, emotional debate, hard questions, snippy answers, and a slew of “unfriendly amendments” shot down, the Florida House Wednesday voted to let teachers carry guns on campus.

The 65-47 vote to approve the measure adopted the recommendations of a commission formed in the wake of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. The 2018 shooting claimed 17 lives. Five Republicans joined Democrats in opposing the measure that now awaits the signature of GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“We cannot legislate light. We cannot prevent a shooting but we can protect against one,” said the bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora.

One year later: Where key Parkland figures are now

Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, said words matter, especially in framing the terms of the debate over allowing teachers to have guns.

“There is a fundamental difference between arming teachers and allowing teachers to be armed,” Grall said.

But Democrats criticized it as a foregone conclusion to put guns in the hands of more people after they worked so hard a year ago to take teachers out of last year’s school safety measure.

“Last year after the shooting violence at Parkland, we heard from many, many people in unison, from teachers, parents, and other residents from around the state,” Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, said during Wednesday’s three-hour debate. “They wanted to ban assault weapons, and didn’t want to arm teachers.”

Last year, after much debate, lawmakers compromised on a sweeping school safety measure crafted in the weeks following last year’s Valentine’s Day massacre.

“The carefully worded Marjory Stoneman Douglas legislation passed last year was the camel’s nose under the tent,” Smith said.

That “carefully crafted compromise” allowed school districts to start Guardian programs with their local county sheriff’s office, which allowed for training school staff who had other duties besides teaching to carry a gun.

The state also provided $67 million in funding for training and school hardening against attacks, of which less than $10 million has been tapped. Currently, 25 school districts have Guardian programs in place. 

What the money is for: From pricey simulators to staples, Florida sheriffs spend millions on school guardians

This year’s legislation expands the Guardian program to include teachers who ask to volunteer to carry a weapon on their school campus. Like last year’s bill, teacher guardians would be required to have 142 hours of training, including eight hours of diversity training.

The bill also makes available more money for school security and mental health counseling. It also requires school safety reports.

Teachers and other eligible school staff members would have to pass a psychological evaluation, complete training by a sheriff’s office and receive approval by the school district before they could carry a firearm into a public school.

Supporters argued the Parkland killings lasted fewer than six minutes while it took law enforcement 11 minutes to respond. Opponents warned about the unintended consequences of mixing guns into classrooms with children.

Efforts by members of the black caucus to add an additional eight hours of implicit bias training were shot down.

The bill was taken up again Tuesday after last week’s round of discussions, shortly after a Pasco County school resource officer accidentally fired his weapon in a school cafeteria.

“My personal belief is that this will result in loss of life,” Rep. Steve Geller, D-Hollywood, said. “I voted for the bill last time because there was so much good in it. The myth that a good guy with a gun is not what we need. Let’s rely on law enforcement.”

Jeffrey Schweers on Twitter: @JeffSchweers 


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