A divided Florida House committee has given its approval to a measure which could put more guns in schools. It’s similar to proposals that have been considered – and, in most cases, rejected, in other states. But the military veteran who proposed it hopes a change he’s made to the formula will help it pass.
Among the factors that helped doom similar bills in other states, including a failed measure in Indiana just last year, was a worry that though teachers or principals could be armed, they might not have access to the proper training – or that paying for such training would be too onerous a burden for financially-strapped districts.
Rep. Greg Steube (R-Sarasota) thinks he knows how to fix that. Steube is an Army veteran who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Before he deployed, he received weapons and combat training – training he’d like fellow veterans or law enforcement officers to leverage on schools’ behalf. His bill allows school districts to hire current or former soldiers and law enforcement officers to serve as “school safety officers.” And Steube says he’d like to see schools train kids differently, too – perhaps by repurposing time spent yearly on fire drills.
“How many children have died in our schools by an active shooter walking in the door and shooting our children? Way too many more than ever should have to. Do we have drills for active shooter-type situations required in the State of Florida for our schools? No we do not,” Steube says.
A chorus of Steube’s fellow Republicans hailed the bill as a chance to prevent a shooting similar to Sandy Hook or Columbine.
“We have a problem that inadvertently occurred. In our overwhelming desire to protect students with gun-free zones, we have created a sterile target,” says Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala).
“I think that a gun-free safe zone is an oxymoron. It’s basically saying ‘we don’t have guns here, come wreak havoc," says Rep. Dane Eagle (R-Cape Coral).
“In folklore, everybody left their guns at the city limits," says Rep. Elizabeth Porter (R-Lake City). "This isn’t folklore, this is cold, hard reality.”
But four of the five Democrats on the House K-12 Subcommittee hoped to shoot down the bill. Rep. Karen Castor Dentel (D-Maitland) worries teachers are already overburdened.
“And when you add additional responsibility for keeping the school safe with teachers and faculty, I think that presents a problem,” she says.
Since the Sandy Hook shooting, the group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America has protested allowing more guns into schools for any reason – and was instrumental in lobbying Indiana lawmakers to back off their plans to arm educators. In a statement to WFSU Wednesday, the group's Florida chapter leader Chryl Anderson agreed with Castor Dentel.
"A teacher’s day is filled with multiple distractions and this could easily result in unsecured guns in classrooms," Anderson says. "Combine this likelihood with a child’s natural curiosity and you have a recipe for disaster -- it's not something American moms are going to accept."
And Florida School Boards Association Executive Director Wayne Blanton said he couldn’t support the bill in its current form because adding guns to schools might also add legal risk.
“A principal may have made a choice that is right or wrong, but we still get litigated," Blanton says. "And as a former school board member, you understand where that ends up. It ends up at the local school board level and at the superintendent’s level that you have to defend that litigation.”
But Baxley – who’s not a lawyer – contends Blanton actually isn’t concerned enough about his liability.
“I agree. You are ultimately liable," Baxley told him. "You’re also liable – it’s a wonder you haven’t got sued by some parent that said ‘my child is in danger because you won’t act.’”
The bill passed the committee 9-4, mostly along party lines.