Among the most contentious bills lawmakers passed in their legislative session – arming school teachers – is heading to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk, and the calls for veto are coming on strong.
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.
The governor was out of town in Miami when the activists came to his office. DeSantis is expected to sign the bill.
“We have said from the beginning that the idea of putting guns in classrooms arming teachers is a terrible idea, and we are urging Gov. DeSantis to veto this idea, and we are not going to stop until we have made sure he has heard from every person,” said Beth DuMond, a volunteer with Moms Demand Action’s Tallahassee chapter
The bill, which passed along mostly party lines with Republicans voting for it and Democrats voting against, allows school districts to give teachers the option to voluntarily carry a firearm in the classroom.
“We are not imposing this on anyone,” said Sen. Gayle Harrell, a Republican from Stuart. “We are saying this is an option – a tool in the tool box that may meet your needs.”
The Florida Legislature approved a gun-safety measure a year ago in the aftermath of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that included allowing some school personnel to become “guardians” who can carry guns. The new proposal allows any classroom teacher to carry a gun after getting special training.
Most school districts didn’t participate in the Guardian program last year, and many have already indicated that they won’t exercise the option of arming classroom teachers. Just 25 of the 67 school districts in Florida have approved participating, and none in any urban areas of the state.
Sixteen-year-old Emma Hanley attended nearly every hearing held in the Florida Legislature over the past couple of months when the bill was up for debate. She says that there is no evidence that arming teachers would be effective in thwarting school shootings.
“There’s actually been plenty of examples already where having more guns in schools has led to accidents, and I don’t think that anyone has been hurt but there have been guns that were misplaced or shootings through walls and ceilings,” she said.
“There’s a lot of good stuff in the bill, but this is really, really non-negotiable for us,” says Hanley. “This is potentially very detrimental to our schools and we hope Ron DeSantis can see our side of it and see the side that most people in Florida share.”
Just last week in Pasco County while the House was debating the bill, a school resource officer’s gun “incidentally discharged” in a middle school cafeteria. Deputies say the officer was leaning against the wall when his firearm “incidentally discharged into the wall behind him.” There were no injuries to students or staff.
Teachers who volunteer and are chosen by school superintendents would undergo psychological evaluations, background checks, drug screenings and at least 144 hours of police-style training.
At least 14 states already arm teachers, while another 16 states give local school boards the authority to decide whether school staff can carry guns.
A Quinnipiac poll released in March showed a large majority of Floridians – 57 percent – oppose arming school teachers, while just 40 percent support the proposal.