Carlton: Now a reasonable sheriff wants to arm teachers, and the world is officially gun mad

Teachers need to teach, not be armed for the next inevitable attack. But now a reasonable sheriff says this makes sense, another sign of the insanity of gun violence.
Published January 4
Updated January 4

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri calls the dead by name.

As chairman of the statewide commission investigating the Parkland massacre, he knows where each one of them was that day when a deeply disturbed former student walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High with an AR-15, killed 17 people and wounded 17 more. He's studied the hallways, the classrooms, the timelines. I ask how many times he's watched the surveillance video.

"Way too many," he says.

So maybe it shouldn't be a surprise that Gualtieri — a reasonable man who has, for instance, opposed an open-carry law that could have guns on customers' hips at your local Publix — is now convinced that training and arming some teachers in our schools is the right move.

"We have to approach this from the perspective of realism," he says.

And this is the world we find ourselves in at the moment, talking about putting guns in the hands of teachers to help stop the kind of mass carnage making regular headlines.

The idea is the most alarming among dozens of recommendations in the committee's comprehensive 458-page report for Florida legislators and the incoming governor.

Now a whole lot of us, including plenty of educators, parents, law enforcement leaders, the state teachers union and assorted other presumably reasonable people, find the idea not just alarming but alarmist, absurd even, and certainly at odds with the pure purpose of our public schools.

Teachers are there to teach. And how can guns in the mix with schoolchildren — in the hands of anyone other than law enforcement — seem anything but risky?

Gualtieri's reality is this: That there will never be enough money provided to fully and adequately staff schools with enough law enforcement to do the job right. Or, should the money miraculously rain down, enough officers, given an existing shortage of police to fill actual departments.

That local school districts have resisted the inexpensive option provided by post-Parkland state law to train certain volunteer school employees to carry weapons.

That in such shootings, the carnage can happen before police get to it — in Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz's case, less than four minutes. Gualtieri says given that Cruz had enough time to reload five times, an armed school employee already on the scene could likely have stopped him.

"We have to change," he says. "And the change most people are looking for is unattainable."

I hope he's wrong.

The report does contain a lot of common sense recommendations for hardening school buildings and improving communication between schools and police. Some are as simple as doors that lock from the inside, buildings well marked for responding officers and, a big one, a single entrance to schools.

And public officials should balk at funding and implementing those options at their peril.

It's also important going forward that school officials are open to a change in school culture, to locked gates and long lines to get in, given our new reality.

Short of putting guns in the hands of teachers.

Are we getting numb to grim headlines? Are we resigned to a gun-mad culture that fights even reasonable restrictions and lawmakers who do the bidding of the National Rifle Association? Maybe we are.

But we should find alarming what reasonable people start to think is necessary because of the current state of the world.

"We are in a tough place in America. It's a hard place to be," says the sheriff who saw the videos. "That's one of the things people are having a hard time wrapping their arms around."

Contact Sue Carlton at scarlton@tampabay.com.

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