The answer to gun violence in schools is not more guns in schools. But that's the wrongheaded approach some officials are taking in Tallahassee and Hillsborough County, proposing to put armed guards in elementary schools and assigning teachers to carry concealed weapons on the campuses. These are risky, costly, knee-jerk reactions that only put more innocents in harm's way.
The education subcommittee of the Florida House approved a bill this week that would allow school principals to designate an employee to carry a concealed weapon on the campus. While principals would decide whether to appoint an armed staffer, minimally trained employees at public and private schools could roam around packing heat while carrying out their usual work routines.
The bill, HB 1097, sponsored by Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, has met with resistance from parents, school boards and the teachers' union — for all the right reasons. It could bring a flood of firearms onto campuses, without any protocol for bringing the one armed staff member — or the six, or 15 or 30, or however many the principal appoints — under any form of central control. And firearms that are inevitably lost or stolen present a new threat to students and the general public.
A security consultant hired by the Hillsborough County School Board also recommended that the county hire armed guards for elementary schools. Sheriff's deputies and police already staff middle schools and high schools; the argument here is that armed guards at elementary campuses would address threats ranging from a potential shooter to an irate parent.
The school district doesn't need armed guards to referee the problem parent who routinely comes to the door. That would be heavy-handed, and there is no safety gap between schools. There are fundamental differences in the security issues at middle and high schools that distinguish them from elementary schools.
The district has better uses for the $4 million it would cost every year to put armed guards in elementary schools. If it wants to spend that money on security, it should explore broad-based solutions in partnership with a task force Hillsborough County is forming to examine a comprehensive approach to gun violence. More outreach and counseling to at-risk populations, hardening of the school campuses and new controls on the sale of assault-style weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines offer a greater return and more lasting parental comfort.