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Sunday, Apr 22, 2018
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Henderson: School gun bill: Benign safety measure, or just the beginning?

On the surface, Senate Bill 968 and House Bill 753, which are moving through the Florida Legislature, seem relatively benign. They essentially would allow limited exceptions to the concealed weapons ban in public schools.

If the measures jump through all the legislative hoops and are combined into law, it would allow school districts to appoint military veterans or retired police officers with the proper permits to pack heat on campus. Some of those people could be teachers.

I don’t know about you, but I just had a flashback to a gym teacher I once had. The thought of him armed wasn’t pleasant.

It’s all in the name of safety, of course. As we know, the only way to make any place safe is to arm people to the teeth. So what could possibly go wrong?

I asked Hillsborough County School Board member April Griffin this week during a visit to The Tampa Tribune editorial board if she favored armed teachers on campus under this proposed law. Her mouth dropped open and she sputtered, “Absolutely not! No!”

This was a few days after Superintendent MaryEllen Elia, in a visit to the same group, said, “I think there may be some heavy push in some areas to put that in. I have concerns as an educator.”

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I have concerns as a citizen as well, but, for the moment, I’ll yield the floor to the superintendent, starting with the obvious question: Where would the weapon be kept?

“A woman (teacher) will not keep it on her body. A man won’t wear it. It’s going to be somewhere in the classroom,” Elia said.

“We have had things stolen out of teachers’ purses. We have careful protocols to keep those things from happening, and they happen anyway. I think putting guns on campus is a problem. Teachers are there to create a learning environment. (Guns) are an added burden I don’t want to take on.”

And to complete the trifecta ...

“Schools are not a place where there should be guns,” said Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins, executive director of the Hillsborough County Teachers Association. “There is nothing to say that having two more people with guns a half-mile apart on a high school campus would prevent anything.”

Back on the original point, the proposed law seems tame enough. It would be limited to a few select, qualified individuals, presumably chosen carefully. A school district would also be free to set its own policy, which almost certainly means Hillsborough would opt out in favor of the resource officers already in place.

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But (and there’s always a but), if this law passes, what’s next? NRA lobbyist and Grand Dame Marion Hammer is relentless in her mission to expand gun owners’ rights. She is pushing a measure now to allow anyone to carry a concealed weapon during an emergency, such as a hurricane, even if they don’t have a permit.

The Florida Sheriffs Association opposes that, but my guess is that the NRA will just keep pushing. It will be the same on the school gun issue as well.

Today, it’s a voluntary option to give a couple of highly qualified individuals license to carry a weapon in school.

Tomorrow? Mandatory?

“It’s a slippery slope for sure,” Baxter-Jenkins said.

She has a compromise solution.

“I would note, as a practical matter, that if the Legislature is really concerned about school safety, it should reinstate capital improvements for schools in its budgets,” she said. “Our Legislature has cut the dollars for things like better fences, more secure entrances and other measures that can help us keep schools safer.”

Capital improvements?

Or more bang-bang?

Place your bets, folks. Place your bets.

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