TALLAHASSEE – A contentious bill that would allow some public school employees to carry guns is advancing in the Florida Legislature with support – or at least no active opposition – from some who fought it in the past, including the Florida School Board Association.
Stricter training requirements for those allowed to carry guns, and clearer delegation of authority to local school boards and superintendents to decide whether to allow it, apparently made the difference for some past opponents.
The bill would require that those allowed to carry guns be former or current law enforcement or military personnel; that they undergo background checks, and that they receive training at law-enforcement academies.
Some, however, still aren’t convinced.
“I just don’t think guns in schools mix. I think we’re not setting enough minimum standards here,” said state Rep. Joe Geller, D-Miami, during a committee debate on the bill Wednesday. “I don’t think an American sniper approach is the way to protect our kids.”
But Republican committee member Erik Fresen of Miami said the bill would help prevent school shootings.
“The common denominator almost without exception in these school shootings has been the absence of an armed school resource officer” or other trained individual with a firearm, he said.
The School Board Association doesn’t oppose the bill this year because it clearly gives school boards and superintendents the decision-making power, said the association’s government relations director, Ruth Melton. The association has previously said only trained law enforcement officers should have guns in schools.
“It’s a better bill than it was last year,” said Connie Milito, lobbyist for the Hillsborough County school system – but she said the Hillsborough school board, which opposed the bill last year, hasn’t taken a position on it this year.
The House subcommittee on K-12 education passed the bill, HB 19, with Geller casting the only “no” vote.
Three other Democrats on the committee who voted against the bill last year on the House floor voted in favor Wednesday, with seven Republicans.
Last year, the bill passed in the House but died in the Senate, where it could face a rougher road this year as well.
It seems likely to get at least a hearing in one of its three required Senate committee stops, however – the chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, Greg Evers, R-Baker, is the sponsor of the Senate version of the bill.
House sponsor Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, emphasized that the bill allows school districts to choose which employees may carry guns, establish procedures for when guns are carried, and require that the weapons be kept in a safe until a threat arises, he said.
Geller said the state should instead find a way to provide school resource officers for all schools, but Steube said that’s prohibitively expensive – some $500 million, according to an estimate he said came from the Sheriff’s Association.