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Florida school shooting panel takes up Trump’s call to arm teachers

Florida school shooting panel takes up Trump’s call to arm teachers

The commission investigating Florida’s Parkland shooting recommended Wednesday that trained and willing educators be allowed to carry guns in schools, reigniting a debate about an idea President Donald Trump had embraced earlier this year.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, chairman of the high-profile commission, suggested the idea late Wednesday as the panel worked to finalize a report that must be delivered to the state Legislature by the end of the month.
“We need to put aside these ideological positions and realize what reality calls for,” Gualtieri said.
His remark set off a lengthy discussion that ended with just one commissioner opposing the idea: Max Schachter, whose son, Alex, died in the February massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Commissioners ultimately approved adding the recommendation to their final report, proposing a major expansion of the state’s Guardian Program, which has allowed some non-educators to carry weapons in schools.
With the notion of arming teachers now cemented in the commission’s report, it will be up to state lawmakers to decide next year if they want to pursue a course almost certain to draw fierce draw criticism.
Many had opposed the idea when Trump first raised it in February, not long after the shooting, during a listening session on gun violence at the White House. The debate over armed instructional school personnel — opposed by many Democrats, particularly African-American lawmakers — nearly tanked the landmark Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, FL SB7026 (18R), earlier this year.
That legislation eventually passed and cleared the way for schools to arm staffers willing to be trained as “guardians.“ But the law forbids educators from receiving the designation, a clear rebuke of the president’s assertion that, “If you had a teacher who was adept at firearms, that could very well end the attack very quickly.”
Currently, 25 of 67 school districts in Florida use some form of the program, according to state officials. It is seen as a cost-effective means to protect students without using commissioned law enforcement officers.
Gualtieri, in his remarks Wednesday, said the Guardian Program isn’t working in its current form. He argued officials in more districts want to use the program but can’t without being cleared by their county sheriff, as required by the law. He recommended the commission call on lawmakers to make it easier for schools to join and permit teachers be allowed to participate.
Only teachers who want to be guardians would have to volunteer, Gualtieri said. As an example, he pointed to educators without weapons who defended students in Parkland.
Before voting to include the Guardian expansions in their report, commissioners asked state Sen. Lauren Book (D-Plantation), the lone lawmaker among the group, how the Legislature might react to their decision.
Book said she couldn’t speak for every lawmaker, but thought the proposal would be given real consideration.
“I think they’ll take it just like they will the entire report,” she said. “We’ve done a tremendous amount of work. They will take this report seriously, and give it the same consideration as every other recommendation we put forward.”
Commissioners admitted the proposal would be controversial.
Schachter said he feared arming teachers would take attention away from the commission’s other recommendations. Arming administrators would be fine, he said, but teachers would be taking it too far.
“I don’t think teachers should carry guns,” Schachter said. “I think they have enough on their plate.”
Commissioners have long hinted at expanding the Guardian Program. From the outset, commissioners said putting one armed guard on every campus, as the legislation requires, is only a “feel good” measure that doesn’t do enough to protect students.
In addition to the expansions proposed Wednesday, the commission on Thursday is expected to discuss requirements for putting more armed guards in schools depending on how many students attend and campus size.
Thursday’s will likely be the final Parkland commission meeting this year before a report, encompassing an investigation and recommendations for improving school safety, is due Jan. 1.