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Would the arming of teachers make Florida classrooms safer? Lawmakers to take another look

by | Jan 2, 2019

The task force assigned to investigate last February’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland finalized its report Wednesday on what happened at the school that allowed a 19-year-old troubled student to walk onto the school grounds and open fire on students and staff. The report also recommends ways to prevent similar attacks in the future.

The attack resulted in the 17 deaths — 14 students and three staff members.

“The 17 families wanted to get to the bottom of what happened on February 14 and I think we have done that,” said Commissioner Max Schachter who lost his 14-year-old son Alex in last February’s massacre in Parkland. “I think this report is a very, very good product. There’s some issues that I still want to go into more detail and I know that we’ll do that in the coming years.”

Members of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission approved the report during a conference call. The report will now be sent to the governor and the Legislature for consideration.

“Our work is not done. We have a lot to do ahead of us,” said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who serves as chairman of the commission. “This was just the beginning of the initial product that we all hope that it enlightens and helps move the needle where it needs to go.”

The recommendations include a proposal to the Legislature to allow teachers who volunteer and undergo extensive background checks and training be allowed to carry concealed guns on campus to stop future shootings.

Commissioner Schachter was the only member of the panel who voted against the proposal to arm teachers when it first came up before the commission last month. He believes the state should focus on hiring more police officers for campuses and allowing non-teaching staff to carry guns.

“We do need more good guys with a gun on campus — nobody understands that and wishes we had more at Marjory Stoneman Douglas than myself,” Schachter said. But arming teachers “creates a host of problems.”

Some school safety experts agree with Schachter.

“The vast majority of teachers want to be armed with textbooks and computers, not guns,” said Kenneth S. Trump, President of National School Safety and Security Services.

“Suggesting that by providing teachers, principals, custodians, or other school staff with 8, 16, 40, or even 60 hours of firearms training on firing, handling, and holstering a gun somehow makes a non-law enforcement officer suddenly qualified to provide public safety services devalues our highly trained police professionals and is a high-risk to the safety of students, teachers, and other school staff,” Trump said.

Gualtieri initially opposed arming teachers, but now supports the idea.

“You’ve got to have somebody there that can swiftly and effectively neutralize the threat and that means killing the killer,” said Gualtieri. “And the only way you’re going to do that is that you have a good buy with a gun that can take that action.”

The idea of allowing teachers to be armed at school as a deterrent to future shooting sprees was opposed by Governor Rick Scott.

“I still think law enforcement officers should be the ones to protect our schools,” Scott said after signing the school safety bill into law last March. “I’ve heard all  the arguments for teachers to be armed and while this bill was significantly changed on this topic, I’m still not persuaded.”

A compromise was reached, allowing staff members to be armed, but not classroom teachers.

The Florida Education Association has been one of the most vocal opponents of arming teachers. The state’s largest teachers union argues guns in the classroom could put students in danger.

“The line in the sand is this. Teachers want to teach,” said FEA President Fedrick Ingram in reaction to the. “They don’t want to carry guns. That is the responsibility of trained professionals.“

Moms Demand Action Against Gun Violence and the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence also oppose arming teachers.

The issue of whether Florida should allow the arming of teachers will looked at again by legislators when they return to Tallahassee in a couple of months. One of the key architect’s of the state’s response a year ago was Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton. A couple of weeks ago, Galvano said he was “very open” to the idea and  said he wants a “realistic conversation” about whether arming teachers would help prevent future mass shootings at schools.

 

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