Arm­ing teach­ers is nec­es­sary

Pro­tect­ing schools seems much eas­ier leg­is­lated than done.

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - David Whit­ley Sen­tinel Colum­nist

Every­body said some­thing had to be done af­ter the Park­land shoot­ing. A lot of them said arm­ing teach­ers wasn’t the answer.

Al­most a year later, the un­com­fort­able thought of let­ting teach­ers carry guns makes more sense by the day.

The Florida Sen­ate ed­u­ca­tion com­mit­tee has filed a bill that would do that, which has raised one question with a lot of people:

Are the se­na­tors to­tally nuts or just lack­eys for the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion?

The answer is they are real­ists who have dis­cov­ered pro­tect­ing schools is much eas­ier leg­is­lated than done.

The state passed sweep­ing new safety re­quire­ments af­ter a gun­man killed 17 people at Park­land last Valen­tine’s Day. One law man­dates that an armed guard be sta­tioned at all of the state’s 4,517 pub­lic schools.

Ide­ally, that would be a po­lice of­fi­cer or sher­iff ’s deputy. Most school dis­tricts have a hard time find­ing the money or man­power to fill those spots.

The next op­tion is the guardian pro­gram. Orig­i­nally, only non­teach­ing school per­son­nel would be el­i­gi­ble. The foot-drag­ging is why teach­ers are now in line to be to be armed.

For the bill to pass, law­mak­ers must shoot down some stub­born mis­con­cep­tions.

“I was hired to teach, not carry a gun!”

I was hired to write medi­ocre col­umns, not play cop. But if some­body came into the news­room fir­ing an AR-15, I’d hope one of my col­leagues had a gun.

And the school guardian pro­gram is vol­un­tary. No­body can force a teacher to arm up.

“Armed teach­ers will be mod­ern day Key­stone Kops.”

Ap­pli­cants un­dergo at least 132 hours of train­ing in gun safety, tac­ti­cal shoot­ing, shoot/no-shoot, live-fire drills.

That’s more train­ing than most po­lice acad­e­mies re­quire, and it’s 100-plus hours more than it takes to be­come an armed se­cu­rity guard in Florida.

“But we’re not talk­ing guard­ing a bank or mall. Chil­dren are our most pre­cious re­source.”

Agreed. I have two in pub­lic school and I’d like to have SEAL Team 6 sta­tioned at their schools. But at some point prac­ti­cal con­sid­er­a­tions must en­ter in.

I think that ev­ery day when I see the Orange County Sher­iff ’s deputy at my fifth-grader’s school. He watches kids dropped off in the morn­ing. He watches them get picked up in the af­ter­noon.

In be­tween, he stands around a lot try­ing not to look bored out of his mind.

I’m not mak­ing fun of him. That is his job.

The Orange County Sher­iff ’s Of­fice was sup­posed to hire 75 new of­fi­cers for school duty, and it was go­ing to cost $11.2 mil­lion.

More than half­way through the school year it’s still 21 of­fi­cers short.

The Orange County School Board has shunned the guardian pro­gram, which is not un­usual. Only 24 of 67 school dis­tricts are

par­tic­i­pat­ing in it. Lake and Vo­lu­sia coun­ties are the only ones in Cen­tral Florida.

The early feed­back has been pos­i­tive, which also is not un­usual. At least 14 other states al­low teach­ers to be armed and the re­views are gen­er­ally good.

Many law en­force­ment de­part­ments aren’t per­suaded, in­clud­ing Orange County’s. But if the over­all goal is to make kids safer, I can’t help won­der­ing if 75 new of­fi­cers might be more use­ful chas­ing thieves, pe­dophiles, drug deal­ers and wife-beat­ers than mon­i­tor­ing school lunch­rooms.

The answer seems ob­vi­ous un­til one of those kids shows up with a ri­fle.

But con­sid­er­ing the num­ber of schools in Amer­ica (about 100,000) and the num­ber of days they’re in busi­ness (about 180 per year), the odds of that hap­pen­ing at a par­tic­u­lar school are in­finites­i­mally small.

Con­trary to con­ven­tional wis­dom, stud­ies show that schools are ac­tu­ally less vi­o­lent and safer than they were 25 years ago. But in the era of so­cial me­dia and CNN Town Halls, school shoot­ings now get mag­ni­fied to where kids rou­tinely worry whether they’re go­ing to be shot at re­cess.

Such dread makes par­ents think teach­ers have no busi­ness guard­ing schools. Bob Gualtieri felt the same way a year ago.

He’s the Pinel­las County Sher­iff who was put in charge of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the Park­land shoot­ing. As the com­mis­sion put to­gether its 458-page re­port, Gualtieri changed his mind about arm­ing teach­ers.

A lot of times, they are the only ones in po­si­tion to con­front a shooter.

“We know from the his­tory of these things that the ma­jor­ity are stopped by school per­son­nel,” Gualtieri told the As­so­ci­ated Press. “People need to keep an open mind to it, as the re­al­ity is that if some­one else in that school had a gun it could have saved kids’ lives.”

There ac­tu­ally was a cop with a gun at Mar­jorie Stone­man Dou­glas High, of course. He de­cided to cower out­side as stu­dents and fac­ulty were mowed down.

What would a teacher on the in­side have given to have a gun?

The skep­tics are right about one thing. Arm­ing teach­ers is not the answer.

There is no sin­gle rem­edy to school shoot­ings, and pro­grams have been set up to bet­ter iden­tify po­ten­tial shoot­ers and har­den schools. But arm­ing a teacher who is pro­fi­cient in us­ing a firearm should be part of the answer.

As un­com­fort­able as that thought is, I’ll take it over the pain 17 fam­i­lies will be feel­ing this Valen­tine’s Day.

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