Fabiola Santiago

April 29, 2014

Fabiola Santiago: When will children - not guns - be first with our state lawmakers?

Of all the six NRA-backed gun bills introduced this year in the Florida Legislature, the most dangerous is the proposal to arm teachers and administrators on campus.

Of all the six NRA-backed gun bills introduced this year in the Florida Legislature, the most dangerous is the proposal to arm teachers and administrators on campus.

But don’t take it from me.

Hear it from someone whose job it is to deal everyday with issues of discipline and violence in schools: Miami-Dade Schools Police Chief Ian Moffett.

I sought out the head of the state’s largest school district when this preposterous measure began sailing through House committees as an antidote to school shootings around the nation. He returned my call at the end of a long day, dinner time, but Moffett was only beginning to drive home from the job.

If anyone knows firsthand how secure or insecure our children are in day-to-day situations in our schools, it’s Moffett. So his take on a bill perilously close to becoming law in Florida — one that could dangerously change the safety-first culture of our schools — can’t be as readily dismissed as some lawmakers might like.

“This is not a good bill,” Moffett said right away, starting to outline so many objections to a proposal he’s certain will not prevent shootings — but has the potential to do a lot of harm — that I had a hard time choosing which ones to enumerate here.

But here’s the basic peril, pure common sense: It’s tough enough for highly trained law enforcement and first responders to assess and respond to dangerous situations. Asking teachers and administrators, taxed with other duties and alien to police work, to also become deft at tactical intervention is a prescription for disaster.

“There are way too many variables in these situations for people to handle a gun,” Moffett said. “We go through so much training to tactically deal with that [a shooter].”

And do we even have to mention the outright danger of introducing weapons on campus, and the tremendous liability that would be for school districts?

Yet this contentious bill passed Monday the Republican-dominated Florida House with a 77-44 vote — despite widespread opposition from just about every group involved in education: parent associations, teachers, administrators, police departments and school boards.

It only makes sense to the NRA and the Republican legislators who see the world through the eyes of this powerful organization’s interests. Without them, the preposterous idea that our children will be taught in classrooms by armed teachers would not even be on the table.

The only positive development is that the Legislature is winding down this week and there may not be time for SB 968, now sitting in committee, to clear the Senate. But if it does, it would land on Gov. Rick Scott’s desk in an election year, when Scott needs the votes of the overwhelming number of educated people who oppose arming teachers.

But with all the NRA lovers in influential positions, who knows? Anything is possible from this Legislature when it comes to the proliferation of guns in Florida. The people who rule over our quality of life have tackled six gun bills, yet will leave this session with some of Florida’s biggest challenges unresolved.

It’s guns first — and children first, never. Certainly not to fund resource officers and mental health counseling, to install cameras and metal detectors in troubled schools. Not even when there’s a budget surplus.

Given the action that the “teacher packing heat” bill has seen, one might think that such risky legislation comes on the heels of conclusive safety and prevention studies by independent and credible sources. But there’s no basis for this bill, only a cadre of legislators’ undying alliance to the NRA.

Just talk to a cop who knows about potential scenarios that can go terribly wrong.

A teacher overpowered and disarmed by students. Stray bullets traveling through sheetrock walls. An innocent victim misidentified as perpetrator.

“We don’t need amateurs bringing guns to the fight,” Rep. Mia Jones, D-Jacksonville, argued on the House floor to no avail.

At the end of our conversation, Moffett had one more point to make about guns in schools.

“I’m a parent,” he said, “and I’m concerned for my kids.”

We all should be.

Let this misguided bullet of a bill die in the Senate.

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