A proposed law that would allow school employees to carry guns on school campuses has gained statewide and local attention.
A House education panel passed House Bill 753, an updated version of a failed armed-teachers bill, on March 12. The bill is currently being considered by the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee, and if approved will advance to the Judiciary Committee prior to being introduced before the entire House and Senate.
The bill would allow employees who are retired or active military, law enforcement officers and those with a Florida concealed weapon license to be armed during school hours.
Currently, only law enforcement officers are allowed to carry guns on school campuses.
Rep. Greg Steube, a sponsor of the bill, said it is important because most elementary schools do not have school resource officers. A school resource officer is a law enforcement officer assigned to an elementary, middle or high school
He said after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., he wanted to take a closer look at the security of Florida schools and ensure their safety from an armed intruder attack.
“To me, having a situation where there’s not a single person in the school that is armed and properly trained that can respond to an armed intruder is a recipe for disaster,” Steube said.
Steube said the bill would allow school districts to have, if desired, designated safety officers. These officers would have completed 40 hours of school safety training, eight hours of active shooter training per year and four hours of firearms qualifications per year to carry a gun on school campuses. They would be employees of the school district in which they serve.
Rep. Karen Castor Dentel voted against the bill when it came through the House education panel, saying the extra mandates would burden already overworked teachers.
While Dentel feels Steube’s intentions are good, she said the bill is redundant because schools already conduct lockdown drills and modern school buildings have been upgraded for safety.
“I just don’t think this is the best way,” Castor Dentel said.
Steube’s bill has faced opposition in South Florida from many school districts who believe that only law enforcement officers should be armed in schools.
Jackie Johnson, the spokeswoman for Alachua County Public Schools, said if the bill were to go into effect it would be up to the school board to decide, but the administration has not taken a position.
Every public school in Alachua County has a resource officer on campus, Johnson said. Resource officers were added to elementary schools in January 2013.
“There are a number of things that we’ve put in place, both as a school system and in conjunction with law enforcement to boost safety,” Johnson said.
She said Alachua County schools use the Raptor system, which screens visitors’ driver’s licenses and cross references with the sexual predator database. Johnson said there are cameras at every school entrance, too.
Kevin Christian, a spokesman for Marion County Public Schools, said they have resource officers in every middle and high school and rotate them among elementary schools.
He said the preference of Marion County Public Schools is to use resource officers and expand funding for them rather than allowing employees to act as safety officers.
Patty Adamly, a math teacher at Eastside High School in Gainesville, said she thinks allowing employees to carry guns in schools would have more negative consequences than positive.
Adamly said she is uncomfortable with guns.
“When too many people have guns, things happen that you don’t intend,”Adamly said.
Tiffany Cowie, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Education, said the FDE has not yet taken a position on the bill.
Becky Raulerson, a mother of two children at Lake Butler Elementary School and a Union County School Board member, said she personally agrees with the bill because of the support it could provide to rural school districts.
“Fortunately, in a smaller community our officers could be there really quickly, but that doesn’t mean that a lot of people couldn’t be killed in the three to four minutes it took for them to get there,” Raulerson said.
Steube said the bill could benefit not only rural school districts, but also those in more populated areas that have a large number of resource officers. Former and current members of the military and law enforcement could act as backup if an emergency were to occur.
“This is an option for that school district to be able to put highly trained and highly qualified individuals who are already working in the schools to be able to respond to a situation,” Steube said.
Wade Millward contributed reporting to this story.