Florida parents should not send their kids to school wondering whether the math teacher, the kindergarten teacher or the football coach secretly carries a gun. Yet the Florida Legislature appears poised to approve a risky scheme that envisions 10 armed teachers in every school who are prepared to respond to a mass shooter. This flawed response to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre would make schools more dangerous, undermine relationships between students and teachers, and transform campuses into armed encampments awaiting the next attack.
Arming teachers is one portion of a wide-ranging package aimed at fortifying schools and calming Floridians shaken by the Feb. 14 shootings that killed 17 at Douglas High in Parkland. There are positives in the legislation, such as raising the age to buy all guns to 21, adding armed school resource officers and spending more on mental health. There are errors of omission that should be corrected by adding bans on the sales of semiautomatic assault rifles like the one used at Douglas High. But the most serious error of commission is including the new path for arming teachers.
Republican legislative leaders ignore the opposition of Democrats, teachers and even the Douglas High survivors and families of those killed by pushing the plan to arm teachers. Under this proposal, predictably backed by the National Rifle Association, teachers who completed 132 hours of training could carry concealed weapons at school under the guidance of the county sheriff. There also would be a public records exemption to keep secret which teachers have guns. It’s no surprise that one opinion poll released Wednesday shows Florida voters oppose arming teachers by 56 percent to 40 percent.
Teachers enter their profession to teach kids, just as law enforcement officers choose to protect citizens by force if necessary. No amount of training will prepare teachers to grab their gun and respond to a mass shooting, and the potential for deadly unintended consequences is enormous. It is entirely reasonable to add more armed resource officers in schools, but it is unreasonable to force every county sheriff to create a training program for arming teachers in case the local school district wants them.
Many students who embrace teachers as mentors and role models would eye all of them with new suspicion, since which teachers had guns would be secret. Minority students who already are disciplined disproportionately and often coached by parents to be cautious around police would be particularly affected. And there is no guarantee a teacher would not be tempted to reach for his or her gun to break up fights or in other situations that fall short of mass shootings.
This knee-jerk reaction to a tragedy would inject the debate over guns into every local school board election. Whether to arm teachers could become a litmus test for school board candidates and for hiring and firing school superintendents. Do Floridians want the NRA involved in school board races that should be about improving academic excellence?
House Speaker Richard Corcoran proudly vows to end schools as "gun-free zones.’’ The Land O’Lakes Republican also wants to give private school tuition vouchers to kids who are bullied. Since he’s all about guns and school choice, he should advocate handing tuition vouchers to families who do not want to send their child to a public school where the third-grade teacher secretly carries a gun.