BY SKYLER SWISHER
TALLAHASSEE – The Florida Legislature is sending a controversial bill to the governor that allows teachers to carry guns on campus, despite protests from teachers and students urging them not to put more firearms in schools.
The Florida House voted 65-47 Wednesday in favor of the school safety measure, which promoted hours of heated and emotional debate.
The Legislature made the change in response to last year’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 students and staff dead.
Rep. Chuck Brannan, R-Macclenny, said allowing the arming of school staff will serve as a powerful deterrent for anyone thinking of harming students.
“This bill is the ultimate school-hardening law,” said Brannan, a retired law enforcement officer from rural North Florida. “It allows the good guy to stop the bad. … The bad guy will never know when the good guy is going to be there to shoot back.”
SCHOOL BOARDS BALK
Gov. Ron DeSantis has been supportive of the school safety package.
Although the bill appears likely to be signed into law, local school boards must authorize the arming of teachers. Teachers would have to complete at least 144 hours of training and pass a psychological evaluation.
School boards representing some of the state’s largest counties — including Broward, Palm Beach and Orange — are opposed to the idea. It appears unlikely school districts in Central and South Florida would authorize the arming teachers.
Democrats said allowing any district to authorize teachers to carry guns is a step too far.
“Teachers need to teach,” said Rep. Matt Gottlieb, D-Davie. “We need to create a more nurturing, loving environment in a school so people don’t grow up to become monsters. … We are creating a police state. It is wrong.”
PROTEST BY STUDENTS
Supporters said a last line of defense is needed in schools, and the bill gives communities the flexibility of whether to implement the program.
The Parkland school shooting that left 17 people dead was over in less than four minutes.
“Our law enforcement officers failed us on Feb 14, 2018,” said Rep. Dane Eagle, R-Cape Coral. “When they can’t get there to save others, I would hope that someone else in that room has the ability to do so.”
Students, including some from Stoneman Douglas, protested in the Capitol and urged lawmakers not to authorize the arming of teachers.
They voiced concerns that arming teachers would have unintended consequences, putting them at risk of accidental shootings or excessive force.
Democrats expressed concerns that bill doesn’t provide enough guidance on the safe storage and handling of guns at schools. They wanted more training requirements and annual psychological evaluations.
The bill features other items aimed at school safety, including greater reporting of school safety incidents, a standardized risk assessment process for dangerous students, and new guidelines on school-based mental health.