As we begin the month of April, the second month of Florida’s annual legislative session, the bills to expand the Florida Guardian program are making their way through the House and Senate chambers and I predict will likely become law.
Last week I observed the Senate Infrastructure & Security Committee take up Senate Bill 7030 with approval along party lines. It now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee next and then, on to the Senate Floor. House Bill 7093 is the House version of the bill and it is listed on the Special Order Calendar for April 3.
The most controversial section of the bill is expanding the Florida Guardian program to include classroom teachers. The majority of public speakers in the Senate S & I Committee were opposed to the concept of expanding the Program to classroom teachers. Current law, passed after the 2018 Marjorie Stoneman Douglas school shootings, authorized school personnel whose primary duties were not in the classroom to participate in the program. After nearly a year of meetings, the special Commission assigned to examine the MSD shootings, made several recommendations including one to expand the Guardian Program to include classroom teachers.
Many teachers, parents, school associations, students and other school employees are lobbying in opposition to the expansion of armed school personnel even though the program is voluntary for participants and school boards have the option of implementing the program. There is no available data on law enforcement but anecdotal news stories indicate that agencies and officers are split on the idea.
In my March blog, I presented pros and cons of arming teachers but wanted to clarify in my own mind whether my inclination to object to the concept was the right one. I had hoped that continuing to monitor the legislature’s committee meetings, testimony and actions, I might have a firmer conviction one way or the other. So far, I am leaning toward my initial inclination but there is still some question for me.
As of this writing, twenty-five districts out of Florida’s sixty-seven districts participate in the Guardian Program as permitted in the 2018 school safety act. Participation in the program would continue to be voluntary on the part of any teacher, would require the school Superintendent’s approval of individual teachers for the program, and sets training requirements, including over 100 hours of firearms training. Under the proposed law, local Sheriffs would be required to offer a training program if the local school district elected to participate in the expansion.
Those who testified in the Senate I & S Committee brought up nearly all of the concerns that have bothered me over armed teachers. They talked about “what if” scenarios regarding risks of accidental discharge, mistaken identity of the good guy/gal with a gun and the bad guy/gal with a gun, storage and security for weapons and ammunition and the conflict that a teacher may find him or herself in should they be called upon to react in an active shooter situation.
What about liability and insurance? An amendment to increase the currently mandated cap of $200,000 for public institutions was voted down. When most teachers, particularly in elementary and high schools, have to supplement school supplies for their students, will someone (school district or sheriff’s office) provide guns, ammo training, and retraining?
Will teachers wear side arms or have to consider how they would quickly obtain the guns to react quickly enough? If an active shooter or shooters are using rapid fire automatic weapons, is the teacher a sitting duck?
The identification of which teachers would be armed brought up another line of questions. If teachers wear a side arm it will be obvious who the armed teachers are. If the armed teachers are identified, are they in danger of being shot first so that the active shooter can go about their destructive intent? If they are not identifiable, will first responders be able to sort the good guys/gals from the bad guys/gals?
The proposed legislation mandates that on official law enforcement are required to confront active shooters even if they don’t have back-up. The bills require better coordination with and among responders and agencies. These were highly publicized criticisms of the MSD shooting incident.
For most people, killing another human being is unthinkable, even for highly trained law enforcement and military personnel. That is why PTSD is such a big problem worldwide. Teachers are generally nurturing and making the momentary, mental transition from nurturer to killer will be life-altering. PTSD treatment is hard to get for our military and first responders. Will it be even harder for teachers to get?
My child is grown and as yet, I have no human grandchildren. I think about how frightening it is for parents to have to prepare their children to react in an active shooter situation. I would have been terrified to send him to school knowing his teacher was wearing a sidearm. I would also have been terrified that law enforcement may not have been able to get there in time.
Have you made up your mind yet? I would love to hear what you think.