Florida lawmakers pass bill that allows teachers to arm themselves

GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, who previously expressed support for the legislation, is likely to sign it into law.
Image: Miami Mayor Gimenez Get Briefing On New Security Measures At Schools
From left, Clayton Forbes, head of school security, and Germany Alech, a Miami-Dade Police officer, stand at the front entrance to the Kenwood K-8 Center in Miami, Florida on August 24, 2018.Joe Raedle / Getty Images file

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By Dartunorro Clark

Florida lawmakers on Wednesday approved a bill that would allow teachers to carry firearms in response to the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that left 17 people dead.

The House voted 65-47, with eight abstentions, on Wednesday to allow classroom instructors to be armed as a school safety measure. The Florida Senate voted last week, 22-17, pass its version of the bill.

Last year, in response to the massacre, lawmakers passed a bill that would allow certain school personnel to carry firearms, but not teachers. This bill expands the state's Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program, which was named after football coach Aaron Feis who shielded students from the Parkland shooting suspect's bullets.

The measure that passed Wednesday was largely championed by Republicans, who control both chambers of the legislature, as a deterrent and decried by Democrats as risky and unsafe. GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, who previously expressed support for the legislation, is likely to sign it into law. A representative for his office did not respond to a request for comment.

Newly sworn-in Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during an event at the Freedom Tower on Jan. 09, 2019 in Miami.Joe Raedle / Getty Images

The bill requires teachers who participate in the program to undergo drug testing and psychological evaluation and to complete 144 total hours of training. The training requirements include 80 hours of commission-certified firearms instruction and eight hours of drilling in active shooter of assailant scenarios, among other conditions.

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School boards in Broward, Palm Beach and Orange counties have already expressed opposition to allowing their teachers to be armed, according to The South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Parkland is located in Broward County.

The legislation also lays out requirements for schools to annually conduct a school security risk assessment, more reporting of school safety episodes and additional guidelines regarding mental health access in schools, among other provisions.

"This bill is the ultimate school-hardening law. It allows the good guy to stop the bad," Rep. Chuck Brannan, a Republican, told The South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "The bad guy will never know when the good guy is going to be there."

Rep. Mike Gottlieb, a Democrat, said the legislation is creating a "police state."

“Teachers need to teach,” he told the paper. “We need to create a more nurturing, loving environment in a school so people don’t grow up to become monsters. … We are creating a police state. It is wrong."

Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union also expressed reservations about the bill, arguing that it may have a deleterious effect on students, particularly students of color.

"The gravest provision in this bill rests on its requirement to place more guns on school campuses. Evidence shows that when more police and resource officers are in schools, we can expect that guns around youth will lead to guns being used on youth. We know from research on police-involved shootings and implicit bias in schools that Black students will be disparately impacted," Micah Kubic, the executive director of the ACLU of Florida, said in a Wednesday statement.

"State lawmakers overlooked these concerns and vouched for policing students rather than improving the quality of student’s education and development with healthy school environments," he added.

As House lawmakers were debating the bill during a heated hearing on Tuesday, a school resource officer accidentally discharged his gun in the cafeteria of Weightman Middle School in Wesley Chapel.

The Pasco County Sheriff’s office confirmed the incident in a statement on Twitter and said that there were no injuries and the weapon was discharged into the wall. This episode, however, bolstered claims by Democrats at the hearing that the bill would prompt similar incidents.

Rep. Wengay Newton, a Democrat, called the situation "insane," according to the Sun-Sentinel.

"I don’t care who had the gun go off," he said. "We had kids there. … It was a gun. It was a bullet that you can’t bring back. Listen to what we are saying. This is insane."