When the school safety revision bill in this year’s Legislature goes to the floor of the state Senate for a vote, there’s a good chance there will be one Republican senator who will oppose the measure.
The bill would expand the guardian program to allow teachers to carry guns at schools after being trained and vetted. The measure largely has the support of Republicans. There’s one exception. The expansion of the program troubles Sen. Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican.
“I really hope that I am wrong. I hope we’re all wrong and that ultimately, there will be more good that comes from this than bad,” Flores told members of the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday. “But I firmly believe our kids lives should be protected by more than just hope. And for that reason I can’t vote for this bill today.”
The bill passed the committee in an 11-9 vote down party lines with Flores crossing the aisle to vote against the proposal. Flores’ views on allowing teachers to carry guns on campuses reflects the emotions stirred by the debate on the issue.
“It would be my greatest hope in life that we can live in a world where there were no guns in classrooms,” Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said to committee members Thursday. “But Nikolas Cruz shattered that hope when he brought a gun into a classroom and killed our precious children. And that’s the reality we live in today. Period.”
Bradley referred to Aaron Feis and Chris Hixon, athletic coaches killed while trying to protect students during the Parkland shooting.
“I only wish that Coach Feis or Coach Hixon were guardians … and they had a gun and not a radio in their hand,” he said.
It was the final committee stop before the bill will be taken up by the full Senate in the final weeks of the 2019 legislative session. While the 43-page bill touches on a number of issues, it was the portion of the bill that would allow the arming of teachers that stirred the most debate.
Barbara Alver is a teacher and a gun owner. She told the committee she is torn by the issue.
“Do I leave my 20 something students…afraid and alone in the classroom to go out and pursue a gunman? Or do I stay with my students to protect them? I feel if I were a guardian and did either one of those situations, I would be wrong,” Alver said.
“It comes down to one word, and that word is ‘option.’ We are not … presenting a bill here today that forces any teacher to be armed. We are not forcing any district to implement an armed program,” said Sen. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah Gardens, the bill’s sponsor.
The proposed expansion of the guardian program comes nearly 14 months after the Parkland school shooting that killed 17 people.
Diaz says since the original school safety law was passed a year ago, 25 of Florida’s 67 school districts have adopted some form of the guardian program, with another dozen exploring the possibility of doing so.
Other changes to Florida’s school safety law include an expansion of mental-health services in schools. Those services; would assist students with suicidal intentions, trauma and violence.
Both the Senate and House school safety bills have cleared the committee processes and await votes in each chamber.