After pleas from educators and other critics who don’t want educators to be armed, key lawmakers have voted to allow classroom teachers to carry guns at school.
The majority of Florida Senate Education Committee members support trained classroom teachers to act as school “guardians” with guns. The legislation on the issue passed along party lines, with Republicans outnumbering Democrats.
A bill created in the aftermath of the shooting tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School a year ago created the original guardian program, allowing school personnel – but not classroom teachers – to be armed.
Few school districts opted into the program.
But a commission that traveled around the state and spent seven months looking into the shooting that killed 17 students and staff released a report earlier this year that recommended allowing classroom teachers to be armed.
The report provided new momentum to revive the idea in this year’s legislative session.
Democrats fiercely oppose the proposal, and Senate Democrat Lori Berman, representing parts of Palm Beach, has tried to convince colleagues to amend legislation to eliminate the idea of arming classroom teachers.
“I don’t want to make things more dangerous,” Berman says. “I think we need to give this law a chance the way it was written, not to expand it.”
Lakeland Republican Kelli Stargel, serving parts of Lake and Polk counties, has quoted Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who says that armed teachers and other school personnel will have more extensive training than those in most police departments in the state.
Senate Education Committee chairman Manny Diaz, Jr., a Republican representing part of Miami-Dade, says “It’s completely voluntary for them,” and school boards would be the ultimate arbiter on how the guardian program would work in their counties.
The bill allows school districts to go ahead and arm teachers, even if their local sheriffs oppose the idea.
Senate Republican Dennis Baxley, serving Sumter and parts of Marion and Lake counties, emphasizes that no educator is being asked, nor required to be a guardian. But he says that those who do want to protect their students should not be denied that opportunity. “That’s unacceptable to me,” he says.
With one exception, all of those who testified at the Senate Education Committee meeting opposed arming classroom teachers.
“We don’t think there’s evidence that more guns equal more safety,” says Scott McCoy with the Southern Poverty Law Center.
And at press conference prior to the Senate Education Committee meeting, Democratic House Minority Leader Kionne McGhee slammed the proposal to arm classroom teachers, saying that it “doesn’t make sense.”
Currently, teachers in 28 states can carry firearms, according to the Crime Prevention Research Center, a conservative nonprofit organization
“Very few schools are participating, and there is no record of success,” adds Kate Kile with the Moms Demand Action Tallahassee chapter. “Any time someone enters a school campus with a firearm intending to harm themselves, or someone else, we have failed our children.”
Because legislation has been approved by the Senate Education Committee, it can go directly to the Senate floor for a vote. If the Senate approves, the state House, and the governor, will have to approve the legislation.