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Make it difficult – or impossible – to get assault weapons, say school superintendents at governor’s roundtable

Pinellas County school superintendent Mike Grego was one of five superintendents invited to Tallahassee this week by Gov. Rick Scott for a roundtable discussion on solutions to prevent future school shooting massacre.
Pinellas County school superintendent Mike Grego was one of five superintendents invited to Tallahassee this week by Gov. Rick Scott for a roundtable discussion on solutions to prevent future school shooting massacre.
Published Feb. 22, 2018

Pinellas County school superintendent Mike Grego was one of five superintendents invited to Tallahassee this week by Gov. Rick Scott to discuss how to prevent another school shooting like last week's massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Broward County.

They emerged Tuesday with two suggestions: make it extremely difficult — or impossible — to obtain assault weapons, and provide more funding for school safety like more school resource officers and building security measures. They also spoke about forming more community partnerships to assist with mental health issues among students.

Grego met with Miami-Dade County superintendent Alberto Carvalho, Citrus County superintendent Sam Himmel, Brevard County superintendent Desmond Blackburn and St. Johns County superintendent Tim Forson, as well as a student representative from Parkland who does not attend Douglas High. The governor also convened roundtables for law enforcement and children and families.

"We have to look at the source and really study the issues," Grego said. "If you want the greatest impact, you must make it extremely difficult or impossible to get their hands on an assault weapons."

The roundtables took place as House Republicans overwhelmingly voted not to debate a ban on assault weapons. The Florida Senate also voted to postpone a bill that would allow designated school staff to carry concealed weapons on campus.

Grego called that bill "worrisome," noting that it would open the door for someone to carry a firearm without a "tremendous amount of training," similar to a law enforcement officer.

"That scares me and it should scare parents too because that's not what they signed up for," he said. "We need to have people with tremendous judgment."

He added: "What I'm not fine with is just making an easier solution by saying, 'How about we just allow people to have guns on campuses without having the assault weapons ban?'"

It's a change of heart for Grego, who last week told the Times that students are faced with rampant violence from the entertainment industry, specifically music and movies. He also shied away from taking a political position, emphasizing that the community should have a discussion specifically about gun safety, not gun control.

"I'm growing to be much stronger in that area but I'm trying to get people to stop thinking about not making it more difficult, but a complete ban," he said Wednesday. "I'm studying the issue to see what gets the greatest results."

He also said he applauded Pinellas County School Board member Linda Lerner, who at a board workshop on Tuesday said she would hold a vote at an upcoming board meeting to take an official stance supporting a ban on assault weapons.

"I appreciate our board getting involved with this and taking a stance and I respect that," he said.

Grego said research and statistics were presented that show that mass shooters have used the same type of assault rifle and that there has been a 183 percent increase in massacres since a 10-year ban on assault weapons was lifted in 2004.

He said Gov. Rick Scott visited the table and spoke about security and technology for schools, like investing in locks, cameras and alarm buttons. All of those come with a price tag.

School safety funding designated by the Legislature has remained stagnant. In the 2016-17 school year, Pinellas spent $6.8 million on school safety, most of paying the salaries of safety personnel. Funding from the state covered less than half that amount.

"(Scott) promised us that we are going to try to move on things," Grego said.

Grego said he also spoke with Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who was also in Tallahassee testifying to Baker Acts and school safety at a workshop. He said they both left Tallahassee optimistic.

"I can tell you that if we can't get this done, we the adults, they will," he said, "because they're very in tune to the situation and they are extremely articulate and they understand it. And it's not because they just lived through this, they see it."

He added, "There's great hope for this next generation, I tell ya."