Against the wishes of pretty much everyone involved in education, the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature this week passed a bill that would allow teachers to carry guns in the classroom. The deeply controversial move, which was approved after hours of debate that sometimes brought lawmakers to tears, would ostensibly make schools safer in the wake of last year's shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
But the Broward County School District, home to the Parkland school where 17 teenagers and teachers were shot dead by a deranged former student, won't be participating. More than a year ago, the Broward school board passed a resolution against allowing teachers to pack heat. The strongly worded measure noted that teachers "are not law enforcement officers" and said there is "no reason based on any viable research" to suggest adding more guns to schools would help prevent mass shootings.
"We do not believe arming teachers is the best way to make our schools safe,” superintendent Robert Runcie reiterated Wednesday in an emailed statement.
South Florida's other two school districts aren't interested, either. In Palm Beach County, superintendent Donald Fennoy has said he wants teachers to focus on teaching and keep guns in the hands of experts. Miami-Dade superintendent Alberto Carvalho told the Miami Herald this week he was glad lawmakers gave districts the ability to opt out.
“Respectfully, in Miami-Dade, we believe that safety and security shall be provided by law enforcement, the only entities allowed to carry firearms into schools, not teachers," he said.
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis is widely expected to sign the bill into law despite forceful opposition from teachers unions and school districts, as well as top law enforcement officials. Even the governor's hand-picked Broward sheriff appointee, Gregory Tony, is against the idea: On Wednesday, he sent a letter to Runcie and the Broward school board saying he's worried that arming teachers is "likely to create a tragic scenario where innocent people can get injured or killed.”
There's evidence those concerns may be warranted. Last week, Giffords, the gun-violence prevention group led by former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, released an analysis showing more than 60 instances of mishandled guns at schools in the last five years. Separately, New Times found ten disturbing incidents involving guns in Florida alone, including several in which teachers told students they would shoot them if they could.
On Thursday, as the bill made its way to DeSantis' desk, student activists who were at Stoneman Douglas during the shooting begged the governor not to sign it. They urged their followers to call his office and voice their opposition to the bill.
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But DeSantis is already on record as supporting the idea. In a statement to the Tampa Bay Times last March, the then-gubernatorial candidate said the Parkland shooting demonstrated a need for stronger security measures, including arming teachers.
"While I don't think any teacher or administrator should be required to carry a firearm, I believe that those who possess a concealed carry license and are so inclined should not be barred from doing so on campus," he said. "What is more, I think it's important to establish a program so that we can enlist the help of retired military and law enforcement personnel to ensure that our students are safe while they learn."