Florida Senate Passes Bill to Expand Armed Teachers Program

April 24, 2019 Updated: April 24, 2019

Florida is one step closer to expanding a law that would allow some teachers to carry firearms in the classroom after the state Senate passed a wide-ranging school safety bill on April 23.

Lawmakers voted 22–17—largely along party lines—in support of Senate Bill 7030. The legislation now moves to a vote in the state House. The bill seeks changes to a law enacted in 2018 after a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. All but one Republican voted in favor and all Democrats opposed.

A key sticking point was a proposed expansion of a “guardian program.” The program, which would be voluntary, allows teachers who sign on under the program to bring firearms to school.

Teachers volunteering under the program must undergo psychological evaluations, be trained by a sheriff’s office, and receive school district approval. According to the bill’s text, volunteers must also complete a 144-hour training program and hold a valid license.

Florida school shooting
Students are evacuated by police from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., after a shooter opened fire on the campus, on Feb. 14, 2018. (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

Current law states that only teachers who have a role outside the classroom, such as an athletics coach, can participate in the guardian program.

President Donald Trump, meanwhile, has expressed support for a bill that would authorize the arming of certain teachers. Trump also suggested that it should be a state law, not federal.

“Armed Educators (and trusted people who work within a school) love our students and will protect them. Very smart people,” he said on Twitter in February. “Must be firearms adept & have annual training. Should get yearly bonus. Shootings will not happen again – a big & very inexpensive deterrent. Up to States.”

The bill’s Senate passage comes after a panel investigating the 2018 high school massacre voted 13–1 to recommend that the Legislature allow the arming of teachers, saying it’s not enough to have one or two police officers or armed guards on campus.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission panel recommended that teachers who volunteer and undergo extensive background checks and training be allowed to carry concealed guns on campus to stop future shootings. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, the commission’s chairman, pushed the measure and said most deaths in school shootings happen within the first few minutes before officers on and off campus can respond.

Republicans, in supporting the bill, said a teacher might be able to stop a shooter before police can arrive at a school.

“This bill does not arm one single, solitary teacher,” said Sen. Manny Diaz Jr. (R-Hialeah). “What this bill does is provide the 67 school districts, the 67 different communities in this state, with the ability to do what they need to do to protect our kids.”

So far, 25 districts have approved participating in the guardian program.

Supporters noted that there were fewer than four minutes between the first and last gunshots during the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. In some rural counties, Diaz said, it could take some time before law enforcement can arrive.

“Those that have law enforcement 20 to 25 minutes away need another option to protect those kids,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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