Well, it happened. Against the cries of many Floridians, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act went into effect this week. Teachers trained as part of the Guardian Program are now able to secretly carry a firearm on Florida elementary, middle, and high school campuses. Passed in May, the bill allowed for the arming of teachers, making an exception for teachers whose only function is instruction. That means, as long as a teacher has another duty besides instruction, like coaching, they would be eligible to carry.
Many Floridians fought hard to keep guns out of school. The vast majority of teachers, administrators, parents, students, and even school districts as a whole, didn’t want this. Politicians shoved the law through anyway.
The bill requires that each school have at least one armed person on site, but it also gives districts a choice between using an SRO (school resource officer) or staff trained through the Guardian program. Out of Florida’s 67 counties, only 39 counties are participating in the Guardian program. Of those 39, many were forced to utilize the Guardian program because budget wouldn’t allow for the hiring of a full-time SRO.
In my own school district in Brevard County, I sat in on school board meetings and watched members wring their hands over trying to figure out how to budget for an SRO to comply with the bill while also hearing parents’ demands to not put firearms in the hands of teachers. There simply wasn’t enough money available. A trained SRO would be $80,000 per year while arming a teacher would cost a few thousand at most. So some of our schools only have a guardian, barely complying with a bill that was largely opposed by those it would affect. My kids were lucky — each of their schools got the full-time SRO. The frustration for so many of us is that we didn’t want the bill in the first place, and then when it was passed, not nearly enough funding was provided to comply with its mandates.
The vast majority of teachers, administrators, parents, students, and even school districts as a whole, didn’t want this. Politicians shoved the law through anyway.
And the larger question remains: As a nation, what are we doing? To many of us it is painfully obvious that adding guns isn’t going to solve our gun problem. And, make no mistake, the issue of school safety and the risks for any type of mass shooting are in fact a gun problem. Whatever mental health epidemics we need to address in this country, adding guns to the mix only worsens it.
What would actually help? Red flag laws would help. Background checks on every gun sale would help. A national registry linking every gun to its owner would help. Harsher penalties for those who carelessly store their weapons and allow someone to get hurt as a result would help. A voluntary buy-back would help. We’re going in the wrong direction when we have teachers and school staff — parents are not informed which teachers — walking around our kids with a concealed firearm.
I believe that some of the people who wanted this program were motivated by concerns for our students’ safety. The frustrating part, the maddening part, is that decisions about this program were made hastily and emotionally, with a disregard for statistics about gun accidents, gun crime, and gun safety.
We know that having a gun in the home increases the likelihood of the residents of that home being shot. The residents of the home are actually more at risk of being shot — because of the presence of a gun — than they are of coming to harm from an intruder. It doesn’t matter how well-trained the owner of that gun is. Its very presence endangers everyone. For adults living in homes with guns, the risk of death by accidental shooting is 3.7 times higher than for those living in homes without guns.
This bill is especially dangerous for black and brown kids.
In a study that collected data from all fatal and non-fatal shootings across three cities, for every time a gun in the home was used in a self-defense or legally justifiable shooting, there were four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides, and 11 attempted or completed suicides. A 1:22 ratio, and yet we keep trying to convince ourselves that guns make us safer. Lawmakers convinced themselves that these same statistics wouldn’t hold true when introducing guns in schools.
Participants in the Guardian program do have to undergo some training. They must pass psych evaluations and drug screenings, and must also complete 144 hours of range training. They receive $500 in exchange for this.
The training would almost be reassuring if it actually helped. But, given the statistics on field accuracy and the fact that this kind of defense is more in-line with a military operation, not to mention the absurdity of a lone gunman with a side arm facing off against a madman with a modified AR-15 or some other firearm that can fire up to 600 rounds per minute, sorry, but I don’t find those 144 hours of training to be reassuring in the least. I’m more worried about the likelier possibility for a mishap to injure or kill a child.
Meanwhile, we teach our kids to hide in closets and not make a sound because there could be a bad guy with a gun out there. We bet on the infinitesimally small statistical likelihood that a stressed and exhausted history teacher with a side arm could save the day against a shooter armed with a weapon modified to be fully automatic. We make that bet along with another bet: that despite all evidence to the contrary, we can pass out guns to teachers and school staff and probably nothing will go terribly wrong.
And we haven’t considered yet how this program will affect students of color. Actually, we have considered it and have apparently decided it’s fine, everything’s probably just fine. Rep. Shevrin Jones (D), who is black, attempted to pass two amendments meant to protect children of color in the event a teacher or staff member “felt threatened” and shot them, but the amendments failed to pass.
Black and brown kids are punished more harshly than their white peers for the same offenses, are expelled more frequently, and are seen as more mature and less like the innocent children they are. For them, this bill is especially dangerous.
In Florida, the Stand Your Ground law would protect a teacher who felt uncomfortable or threatened with how a 12-year-old student was acting and pulled out their firearm to kill a child. All they would have to do was provide scant evidence that the child was acting in a way that made the teacher feel threatened.
So, here we are, doing the opposite of what we should be doing to protect ourselves and our children from gun violence. I’m disappointed and angry, and I will not give up fighting to keep guns out of our classrooms. If you are as unsettled about all of this as I am, join Moms Demand Action by texting READY to 64433. You will be prompted to take simple steps to contact legislators at both state and national levels to make your voice heard.