Florida lawmakers marked the first anniversary of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland by pushing forward a new effort to put even more guns in schools.
The bill, which cleared the Senate Education Committee along party lines Tuesday, would allow teachers with concealed carry permits to bring their guns to school provided they receive more than 100 hours of firearms training from local sheriff’s departments. It will be considered by the full Florida Senate when it comes back into session in March. The bill is expected to pass.
“I want someone there to protect my eight grandchildren and their generation,” Sen. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala), said during Tuesday’s hearing. “They deserve to have someone ready.”
But Florida schools already allow certain security personnel to carry weapons. And by its own admission, the Senate Education Committee said it had no data to support the idea that arming more staff is an effective method to prevent or stop school shootings, CBS 47 reported. The committee also failed to clearly explain how firearms would be securely stored within the classroom, according to the news outlet.
The committee’s acceptance of the bill flies in the face of criticism from many shooting survivors and their families, who have spent the past year fighting for gun control. They staged marches around the country and the world to call for stricter gun laws. They inspired students across the country to walk out of their own schools in protest of having to live in fear of school shootings. And the parents of children who died in Parkland took lawmakers to task for their inaction on gun violence, even when the parents were blatantly disrespected by those same people in power time and again.
Arming teachers actually makes schools less safe, according to Bacardi Jackson, managing attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“You can look at the most hardened prison in America, hardened by every possible means, and that in and of itself teaches us that hardening places doesn’t create safe spaces,” Jackson told HuffPost. “Why would we want to create a prison-like environment that we know will not lead to a safer environment?”
At least 28 states have policies that allow armed security personnel in schools, and at least eight states allow school employees themselves to carry firearms, according to a 2018 report by the Education Commission of the States.
“We’re doing everything we can to make our voices heard, yet our lawmakers still ignore our efforts to save Floridian lives,” said Jovanna Liuzzo, a recent high school graduate and volunteer at the Florida chapter of Students Demand Action, of the Florida bill. “We don’t want our teachers to be armed. We want common-sense gun laws to make sure that people with dangerous histories don’t have access to guns in the first place.”
The idea that “a good guy with a gun” could stop a bad one, spouted by the National Rifle Association, has also been largely unfounded. As The New York Times’ Andrew Rosenthal pointed out in 2012, multiple “good guys” with a gun are more likely to confuse law enforcement officers looking for the “bad guy” with a gun.
About the only thing more terrifying than a lone gunman firing into a classroom or a crowded movie theater is a half a dozen more gunmen leaping around firing their pistols at the killer, which is to say really at each other and every bystander. It’s a police officer’s nightmare.
The FBI, in its review of 250 active shooting incidents in the U.S. from 2000 to 2017 found that in only seven cases did a civilian with a valid firearms permit actually stop a shooter.
Jackson said police officers already make difficult judgment calls that can sometimes lead to the deaths of innocent people. To give that heavy responsibility to civilian teachers seems callous.
The head of the Florida Education Association said that it’s a responsibility that many teachers don’t want.
“This is the wrong conversation and the wrong decision coming from lawmakers,” Fedrick Ingram told HuffPost. “Unfortunately, they have not asked teachers how to make these schools safer, because any teacher will tell you that we need to be talking about counseling and mental health issues. Those are the things that will stop these issues before they happen.”
The Marjory Stoneman Douglas commission, which released a report of more than 400 pages that has been the basis for the new bill, does not include any current teachers.
“This MSD commission has lots of law enforcement folks, and we respect law enforcement, they do a great service, but there is not a [current] teacher on this commission,” Ingram said. “If our lawmakers are following this commission, then they are not following the voices of our teachers and parents. The priority is wrong.”
Manatee School for the Arts in Palmetto, Florida, will soon have two combat veterans in body armor roaming their school equipped with Glock handguns and semiautomatic rifles, The New York Times reported on Monday. The idea is for the weapons-ready veterans to take down a school shooter at a moment’s notice. Jackson said that will only make students more afraid.
“I have three children, and I cannot imagine my children having to pass a man standing in their hallway with a bulletproof vest, a semiautomatic and a Glock ― that’s terrifying to me,” she said.
Even those given clearance to protect children in school with firearms can, and do, make costly mistakes. Two weeks after the Parkland shooting, a Georgia teacher barricaded himself in a high school classroom and fired a handgun. A short time after that, a school resource officer at a Virginia middle school accidentally discharged his service weapon inside his office.
In both of those cases, no one was hurt. But armed protection had already been in place at Stoneman Douglas the day of the deadly shooting. An armed school resource officer was standing outside the school as the shooting went on.
He never went inside.