Arming teachers an emotional debate
Here’s what you need to know about the issue and what Florida’s lawmakers are doing about it
TALLAHASSEE — It’s an emotional debate that could change how school security is handled in Florida.
Just over a year after the deadliest school shooting in Florida’s history, state lawmakers are considering allowing teachers to carry guns on campus.
The measure has drawn student protesters to the state Capitol with the wounds still fresh from the Feb. 14, 2018, massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
They say the idea of their teacher having a weapon makes them feel scared — not safer.
Others say students will continue to be “sitting ducks” during the next school shooting if Florida doesn’t change its approach.
Why do supporters say we need to arm teachers?
Simply put — most mass shootings are over in minutes.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who chairs the commission investigating the Parkland school shooting, initially opposed allowing teachers to carry guns on campus.
He changed his mind after seeing videos and reviewing other materials related to the shooting. The shooter stopped to reload his
AR-15 semi-automatic rifle five times, providing an opportunity for someone with a gun to stop him.
The Parkland shooter spent fewer than four minutes killing 17 students and staff and wounding
17 others. He shot 23 people on the first floor of the school’s 1200
Building in 1 minute, 44 seconds — before school resource officer Scot Peterson even got to the door, Gualtieri told state lawmakers.
“If we are going to have a different outcome … we need to do it differently,” Gualtieri said. “If we keep doing what we’ve always done we are going to get what we always got and what we got is not good.”
Gualtieri said there aren’t enough police officers available to station one at each school.
So why does the idea have people upset?
Opponents say educators should be focused on teaching — not protecting students.
“Arming teachers does not represent what teachers, parents or students want or need,” said Aalayah Eastmond, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and survivor of the Parkland shooting. “It’s just a dried-up bandage trying be used on a large wound. It does not work.”
Concerns abound that a teacher’s gun could end up in the hands of a student or that an educator might use excessive force if a fight breaks out in a classroom.
Giffords Law Center, an organization that favors gun control, argues introducing more guns to schools would actually make students less safe.
The group compiled a list of 60 incidents where teachers, school security officers and others mishandled guns at school. A substitute teacher in Largo had a loaded handgun fall out of his waistband while helping elementary school students do cartwheels, according to one report. A deputy’s gun went off when a student grabbed his gun during a struggle at a school in Michigan, causing a bullet to ricochet into a nearby wall, according to another report.
Furthermore, school shootings deaths are extraordinarily rare. Researchers estimate that only about 1 percent of the nearly 40,000 firearm deaths in 2017 occurred in mass shootings with the majority of gun deaths being suicides.
Kara Gross, legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, said lawmakers should focus more on increasing mental health services in schools, an issue that is far more likely to affect students in Florida than a mass shooter.
Does this mean my child’s teacher will have a gun?
Maybe. The program is voluntary for school districts, and teachers would have to pass a psychological evaluation and undergo training. It does not require that all teachers carry a gun or mandate educators be armed.
Local school boards ultimately can decide under the proposal whether to allow teachers to carry guns. Opponents, though, say the program is not voluntary for students — who will have no say over whether they are in a classroom with an armed teacher.
What is mandatory is that each public school have at least one armed security officer, a law adopted by state lawmakers after the Parkland shooting.
The courts have ruled that requirement also applies to charter schools. Districts have options in how to achieve the mandate.
One option is to station a sworn law enforcement at each school. That’s a costlier path and a difficult one to achieve because of the shortage of police officers. Palm Beach and MiamiDade counties — which have their own school police forces — went that route.
School boards and sheriffs can also create a “guardian program” that allows non-instructional school employees to be armed. But classroom teachers — with a few exceptions — were explicitly prohibited from carrying guns.
Twenty-five school districts participate in the guardian program. All but two elected not to arm existing employees, Gualtieri told lawmakers.
Broward County participates in the guardian program, but it doesn’t plan to arm existing employees. Instead, it decided to recruit security officers to serve as guardians.
Applicants must be at least 21 years old and have a minimum of two years of military or sworn law enforcement experience to hold the newly created job, which pays $25,000 to
$33,000 a year.
The state set aside $67 million in nonrecurring funds and $500,000 in recurring dollars to help fund training for guardians, who are entitled to a one-time
$500 stipend for participating in the program.
Which school employees can carry a gun already under state law?
The legislation passed after the Parkland school shooting already allows some school employees to serve as guardians in addition to their regular duties.
Examples include librarians, coaches, administrators and counselors. The legislation prohibited employees “who exclusively perform classroom duties.” Exceptions exist for teachers of a Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program, along with teachers who are a current service member or a current or former law enforcement officer.
How much training is required?
State law requires guardians complete at least 132 hours of firearm safety and proficiency training. That includes 16 hours of precision pistol training, eight hours of discretionary shooting instruction on a simulator, eight hours of active shooter scenarios, eight hours in defensive tactics,
12 hours on legal issues and
12 hours on diversity training.
Program participants must achieve an 85 percent pass rate on the firearms training and then complete firearms qualification on at least an annual basis.
The proposal that would expand the guardian program to classroom teachers increases the training requirement to at least 144 hours.
How much money is budgeted for armed security at school?
Legislation passed last year set aside $162 million in state funding to help districts meet the requirement of having an armed guard at each school.
Lawmakers set aside $75 million for student mental health services as part of the legislation.
Where does the proposal to arm teachers stand?
The proposals that would allow the arming of teachers (SB 7030/ HB 7093) have advanced through committees and are awaiting debate by the full House and Senate.
Both Senate and House leaders, along with Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, are supportive of the idea.
But opposition is mounting. In addition to student protests, the Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund is vowing to spend $200,000 on campaign, including digital and print ads, to defeat the bills.
Students gather at the Florida Capitol on Wednesday to protest bills that would allow teachers to be armed in their classrooms.