DeSantis signs teachers-with-guns bill, shunning calls for a veto

Students protest gun violence at the Capitol in 2018. Screenshot of Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence video.

Shortly before attending a poltiical rally with President Donald Trump on Wednesday evening, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a controversial bill that will give Florida teachers the option of carrying guns in their classrooms.

The arming of teachers was a volatile issue in the 2019 session, drawing students, teachers and gun-control advocates to the Capitol. They staged rallies, protests and other efforts to block the move that could radically change classrooms across the state.

A number of groups called on the governor to veto the legislation. On Tuesday, members of the group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Students Demand Action for Gun Sense in America came to the Capitol to hand off a letter signed by more than 13,000 Floridians urging DeSantis to veto the bill.

But late Wednesday afternoon, DeSantis signed the bill quietly.

Legislative leaders on Wednesday morning had sent the Republican governor the measure (SB 7030) that will give local school boards the choice of allowing teachers to be armed as part of the school guardian program that was established after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County last year.

The legislation, which was based on recommendations from a task force that reviewed the tragedy, faced strong opposition from Democrats in the House and Senate in the recently  concluded 2019 session. But the Republican majority backed the measure.

Most urban school districts, including Orange, Duval, Hillsborough, Lee, Leon, Manatee and Sarasota counties, have already voted to reject the idea of arming teachers. The Florida Education Association, the union that represents the majority of teachers, has urged school boards to oppose arming teachers if the bill is signed into law by DeSantis.

“Districts will be the last line of defense on this issue,” FEA President Fedrick Ingram said in a statement. “There is no research to show that arming teachers will make our students safer. Opinion polls consistently show the public is against it.”

Some 25 school districts are now using non-classroom personnel as guardians on school campuses to replace or supplement security that was once provided only by trained law-enforcement officers.

The bill would let local school boards decide whether to allow teachers to become armed guardians. The teachers would participate on a volunteer basis. The guardians are under the supervision of local sheriffs, with a minimum of 144 hours of training and a psychological review.

There are less controversial provisions in the legislation, including efforts to improve school mental-health services, report safety incidents on campuses and evaluate threat assessments. There are also provisions to improve the physical security of school campuses.

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