A bill filed to make sure tragedies like Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting don’t happen in Florida passed the state House Monday. But, the measure that could allow teachers to carry guns on school campus drew a lot of fire from Democrats.
It’s been more than a year since the Sandy Hook mass shooting that left 26 people dead—mostly kids. And, Rep. Greg Steube (R-Sarasota) says according to a national report, close to 50-percent of the incidents—similar to Sandy Hook—are known to last less than 15 minutes.
“A quarter of the incidents were over within five minutes of their inception. At Sandy Hook, the first 9-1-1 call went out at 9:35:39 a.m. The shooter killed himself at approximately 9:40 a.m., less than five minutes after the first calls went out. Police didn’t even enter the school until four minutes after the killer shot himself,” said Steube.“And, I just gave you the facts that were cited from a report that was done by the U.S. Secret Service and the Department of Education that if there’s nobody there within five minutes, most of the devastation and the destruction has been done.”
Steube says in his district, there are no school resource officers in Sarasota or Manatee counties. And, he says the wait time for law enforcement to get to a school in those areas is even longer than Sandy Hook.
So, he filed a bill that allows local school administrators to designate a person to carry a concealed firearm on the school property. That person must have law enforcement or military experience and undergo a background screening.
“Members, this bill gives our local school boards the opportunity to put a highly trained, a highly motivated individual who was willing to take this on, to be there in those five minutes when there’s not somebody there,” added Steube. “If somebody rolls into a school in my district, in Manatee and Sarasota counties, at one of the elementary schools, there’s not anybody there. So, you know what the average response time is in Manatee and Sarasota County? 6-11 minutes. That’s in the suburban areas. In the rural schools that I have, that are 20 and 30 minutes away, they’re going to have to wait 20 minutes for law enforcement to get there to enter our school. This gives the local school boards the opportunity to make sure our children are safe.”
Rep. Ronald "Doc" Renuart (R-Ponte Vedra Beach) says the bill is needed for school districts that can’t afford resource officers.
“The only thing that stops an active shooter is somebody who has a weapon who is well-trained. Now, we cannot afford to have resource officers in every school full time. Yet, we have very willing veterans who have been well trained who can help us in this situation,” said Renuart.
But, Rep. Mark Danish (D-Tampa) says there could be unintended consequences for such a bill. He says the Legislature should instead be looking to see if they can put money in the budget to make sure there are trained officers on school campuses. And, he recalled a story that happened in his area, while working as a middle school science teacher.
“Two trespassers were on the campus in my school. Very simple thing, I grabbed my cell phone and got on there with my resource officer. I got on there with my resource officer, I coordinated with him, he was coordinating with Hillsborough Sheriff’s department, and we got ‘em,” said Danish. “Three squad cars came into the area with the school resource officer and they made the arrest. It was done very smoothly. I hate to think what would have happened if we had one of the teachers going out there armed, what might have gone wrong.”
Rep. Lori Berman (D-Lantana) also shared similar concerns.
“So, in the event law enforcement comes to the campus, there could be more uncertainty. They could see a plainclothes person and think that person is the active shooter,” said Berman.
But, Pensacola Republican Clay Ingram, a bill supporter, shared a story of his own—which he called the scariest event in his life, as an Escambia County teacher.
“Probably the most terrifying event or the most scared I’ve ever been is in an active shooter lockdown drill at a school. You can imagine an alert goes out, you huddle your students in a classroom, and you wait for a gunman to come in and shoot you. It was the most terrifying experience that I’ve had, I know for the students it was the most terrifying thing they’d been through—many of them,” said Ingram. “I just ask you, put yourself in that situation and think about the only thing that would save you, if there’s not a school resource officer available is someone else to come in with a firearm and prevent that active shooter from continuing his rampage.”
Still, Rep. Elaine Schwartz (R-Hollywood) says she’s worried about how the bill allows designated former vets to carry guns on campus. She says they should not only have a background screening, but a psych evaluation as well.
“How often do we hear on the news that former military veterans have gone berserk with PTSD or some kind of problem? How do we know these people are safe to put in our schools,” asked Schwartz.
Some Republicans took offense to her comments, even calling her argument bizarre. And, after nearly an hour of debate, the measure passed 71-44 mostly along party lines with most Democrats opposed. Meanwhile, its Senate companion is stalled in the process.
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