Editorial: Florida Republican legislators choose guns over teachers

Most teachers and school boards do not want to arm classroom teachers. Yet Republican lawmakers want the third-grade teacher or the history teacher to be able to carry a gun.
From top left to right: Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa; Sen. Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg; Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton; Sen. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater;  and Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby. They want school districts to be able to arm classroom teachers.
From top left to right: Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa; Sen. Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg; Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton; Sen. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater; and Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby. They want school districts to be able to arm classroom teachers.
Published April 17
Updated April 20

Florida’s unhealthy obsession with guns is about to get worse. The Republican-led Legislature appears poised to allow teachers in the classroom to be armed, an irrational reaction to last year’s massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. This is a dangerous approach that most teachers and school boards across the state do not support, and it would make children less safe in the classroom.

Senate Republicans unveiled revised school safety legislation Wednesday and defeated an attempt by Democrats to remove the section allowing classroom teachers to be trained and armed on campus. The final Senate vote is expected to be no different, and House Republicans are expected to embrace arming classroom teachers as well. That will leave it up to local school boards to react with some sanity and reject adding even more guns into their schools.

Siding with guns rather than teachers in the pivotal vote Wednesday were these five Tampa Bay Republican senators: Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, Senate President Bill Galvano of Bradenton, Ed Hooper of Clearwater, Tom Lee of Thonotosassa and Wilton Simpson of Trilby. The two Tampa Bay Senate Democrats stood with teachers and common sense in voting to maintain current law and not permit arming classroom teachers: Janet Cruz of Tampa and Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg.

Just a year ago, then-Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature passed a comprehensive response to the Douglas High shooting that stopped short of arming classroom teachers. That new law requires armed guards at schools, and the state allocated $97 million for more school resource officers and $67 million for a guardian program that provides for training and arming school personnel, including some teachers who are not primarily in the classroom.

Guess what? There wasn’t nearly enough money to hire all of the school resource officers that local districts wanted. Only $9 million of the $67 million for the guardian program was spent by September, and school districts such as Hillsborough and Pinellas used it to hire armed security guards rather than to arm teachers, counselors or coaches. Scott even asked legislative leaders before he was elected to the U.S. Senate to let the guardian money be used to hire school resource officers instead. They refused. That tells you something about their real motives.

Nothing has significantly changed in the last year to justify arming classroom teachers. Parents are not demanding that their child’s third-grade teacher or high school history teacher carry a gun. The systemic failures of the Broward County School District to address the persistent issues with Nikolas Cruz, the former student charged with killing 17 at Douglas High, have been exposed. So have the failures of the armed school resource officer and other law enforcement officers to immediately enter the building as the gunshots rang out.

What has changed is the politics. New Gov. Ron DeSantis favors arming classroom teachers. Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who chairs the state commission that investigated the massacre at Douglas High, has changed his mind and now supports arming classroom teachers. At least the sheriff’s revised opinion is an informed one. But it wasn’t a shortage of good guys with guns that allowed the death toll to reach 17.

The governor and Republican legislators are out of step with most voters, school boards and their own communities. It will be up to local school districts to continue to reject this approach. It’s one thing to require armed police officers or security guards on every school campus. It’s quite another to arm teachers who should be focused on teaching.

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