Arming teachers and school staff can come with substantial risks to student safety
Florida teachers can now carry guns in school, thanks to a bill passed this week by state lawmakers. The new law expands on an existing school “guardian program” that allows a teacher to volunteer to carry a weapon if their local school district approves.
The bill, introduced last year, is in direct response to the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018. The Republican-led Florida House voted 65-47 on Wednesday to send the bill to Governor Ron DeSantis, also a Republican, who is expected to sign it.
Shortly after the shooting in Parkland last year, state lawmakers passed legislation requiring schools to place at least one armed staff member or law-enforcement officer on campus. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act mandates that every Florida school have a School Resource Officer, or SRO – a formally trained, sworn law enforcement officer, employed by the sheriff’s office. The Act also introduced the Guardian Program, a provision allowing for the arming of school staff — non-instructional staff, like principals, vice principals, front desk staff, school nurses, librarians, guidance counselors, and cafeteria and custodial staff.
According to the new law, teachers who work for districts that choose to join the program are able to carry guns to school. They’ll have to undergo police-style training, a psychiatric evaluation, and a drug screening. While many parents across the country have expressed their trepidation and even outright opposition to arming teachers, Florida lawmakers have shown they’re onboard.
“It allows the good guys to stop the bad. The bad guys will never know when the good guys are there to shoot back,” Republican Rep. Chuck Brannan of Lake City tells CBS This Morning. “The guardian is the last line of defense. He or she will be there when a police officer is not.”
The Broward County sheriff, Gregory Tony, was appointed in the wake of the Parkland shooting (he replaced former Sheriff Scott Israel after he was suspended post-shooting). In a letter he wrote to the local school board and superintendent this week, he says he’s opposed to arming teachers.
“This program would place students, teachers, and first responders at risk, when our focus should be on keeping our children safe and making schools places where students feel they belong,” Tony wrote. “Teachers enter that profession to educate children, not to serve as school security.”
Sheriff Tony has a point. A report from the Associated Press last May shows that armed adults have been responsible for over 30 gun safety lapses in school since 2014. The AP reviewed news reports collected by the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive, which revealed more than 30 publicly reported mishaps since 2014 — all involving guns brought into schools by law enforcement or educators. The news reports included mishaps where guns went off by mistake, were fired by “curious or unruly students,” or were left unattended in school bathrooms and other locations.
A majority of state Democrats voted against the bill, stating that allowing more weapons into schools can place children at risk for the same reasons the AP report discovered. It can also potentially lead to more violence against black students because of inherent biases.
While the Florida law doesn’t require schools to arm teachers, allowing teachers and staff members to arm themselves comes with a substantial safety risk — which is ironic, given the reason why the Florida GOP created and passed this law in the first place. Arming adults in schools — even in an official capacity — isn’t necessarily contributing to a safer school atmosphere.
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