Activists share opposition to arming school teachers
From the What-Could-Possibly-Go-Wrong? Department:
A bill allowing Florida teachers to carry guns in public schools passed the Legislature last week and is expected to be signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Teachers will soon be able to volunteer as “armed guardians” in their schools after attending firearms training, undergoing a psychiatric evaluation and agreeing to drug tests.
Drafted in response to last year’s Parkland massacre, the law was strongly opposed by the state’s largest teachers union, the Florida Education Association, many parents and some of the students who survived the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. Several lawmakers expressed concern that African-American students will be put at heightened risk because of a reflexive bias among some gun owners.
The Republicans who pushed the plan to arm educators say it provides a faster front-line defense during attacks on schools. Their fantasy scenario must be a social studies teacher-turned-marksman, coolly whipping out his Glock and taking down an active shooter before a rampage begins.
Other scenarios, truer to real life, wouldn’t have such heroic Hollywood endings.
It’s not hard to imagine a newly certified armed guardian — scared and jacked on adrenaline, as any average person would be — firing with unsteady hands at an assailant but accidentally killing fleeing students instead.
Such heart-wrenching mistakes have been made by soldiers in combat, and by veteran street cops and detectives. It’s expecting a lot from an untested civilian holding a pistol to hit a moving target in the midst of chaos — a target that’s shooting back.
Another fantasy notion, fed by the NRA, is the premise that merely putting more guns in schools will make schools safer. Any parent with sons or daughters at a big public high school should have no trouble envisioning situations when a loaded firearm is the last thing you’d want to see in a classroom.
It’s not that hard to imagine a kid who’s been bullied to the breaking point, snatching the pistol from the holster of a preoccupied teacher and turning it on the classmates who’ve been tormenting him. …
Or a kid who learns he just flunked an algebra test, trashed his GPA and lost his spot on the football team, furiously overpowering the teacher, grabbing the teacher’s gun. …
Or imagine an armed “guardian” teacher with serious emotional problems that no psychiatric test detected, and one at the school knew about. …
The possibility of such nightmare events is one reason most county school administrators oppose the arming of teachers, despite the recommendations of a task force that studied the Valentine’s Day slaughter at Stoneman Douglas.
Florida has more than 3,600 public and charter schools, all of which are now required to have at least one armed “safe-school officer.” There’s a serious shortage of both qualified personnel and funding, which is one reason the guardian program was initiated last year.
Another reason is that too many politicians remain afraid of the NRA, which for years has been lobbying to get more guns on college campuses. The horror in Parkland presented a prime opportunity to go after high schools, too.
The first version of the guardian program allowed staff members but not full-time classroom teachers to carry weapons. It was widely snubbed by school districts, which are understandably leery about using anyone except trained professionals.
Last week’s passage of the expanded guardian law generated national headlines for giving Florida teachers a gun-slinging role. The good news is that a relatively small number of them will be packing heat on the job.
That’s because the law also gives school districts the option of not participating. Only 25 of 67 counties signed on for the initial armed guardian program, and most of them did it to fund hiring of more security guards — not to train staff members how to shoot.
Florida’s two biggest school systems, Miami-Dade and Broward, won’t have any teachers with guns on campus. Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said “safety and security shall be provided by law enforcement, the only entities allowed to carry firearms into schools.”
Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie echoed the same thing: “We do not believe arming teachers is the best way to make schools safe.”
The truth is that arming anybody to guard students carries a risk.
One day before the Legislature voted to let teachers bring firearms, a resource officer at Weightman Middle School in Pasco County was leaning against a wall in the crowded cafeteria when the gun in his holster went off.
Luckily, neither the deputy nor any of the kids got hurt. The wall got a bullet hole.
And every waiting mom and dad got a knot in their stomach.