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Monday, Jun 18, 2018
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Editorial: Legislative gun play at school

There is a key difference between two controversial bills in the Florida Legislature concerning guns and schools.

One measure derided by critics as permitting teachers to pack “heat” in the classroom actually would give local schools more security options.

The other, ridiculed as the “Pop-Tart” bill, which passed the House last week, would erode school discipline.

Gun rights are a conservative value, but adopting laws for nonexistent problems, which the Pop-Tart bill does, is a liberal tactic.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican, and Sen. Greg Evers, a Pensacola Republican, is a hysterical reaction to an incident in Maryland last year where a 7-year-old boy was suspended from school for chewing his Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun.

The suspension, of course, was idiotic. But the goofball decision hardly represents a national crisis. The incident was noteworthy because it was so bizarre. It’s a fool’s errand to try to legislate away all possibility of bad judgment.

Sponsors say the law is necessary to bring common sense to the state law demanding zero tolerance for threats to school safety.

But current law does not mandate zero tolerance for trivial acts. Teachers and school administrators can determine what is a genuine threat on a case-by-case basis.

Schools’ ability to maintain safety would be compromised by the law’s dictate that provides special protections for a number of gun-related actions.

Among them: Simulating a firearm or weapon while playing; brandishing a partially consumed pastry or other food item to simulate a firearm; using a finger or hand to simulate a firearm or weapon; drawing a picture or possessing an image of a firearm.

Lawmakers should recognize legislating what can be done with “partially consumed pastry” is government overreach at its most banal.

But even the other provisions present problems.

What about a case where a student uses his hand to simulate a firearm as a threat to another student or to encourage a student to commit suicide?

Or what about students engaging in a Columbine-like game of mass murder?

Such cases may be rare, but far less rare than Pop-Tart suspensions.

The proposal does state a student may be disciplined if “simulating a firearm while playing substantially disrupts student learning, causes bodily harm to another person or places another person in reasonable fear of bodily harm.”

But the overall effect of the legislation would be to give an easy out to misbehaving or threatening kids who could cloak their offenses in the Second Amendment.

Our teachers face enough disciplinary challenges. Lawmakers should not add to them.

In contrast, the school safety bill sponsored by Sen. Alan Hays, an Ocala Republican, and Rep. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican, empowers educators, rather than handcuffs them.

It specifies that school administrators “be allowed, but not required,” to designate certain employees who could carry concealed firearms on school grounds.

The legislation would limit these designees to individuals with military or law enforcement experience with no firearm-related infractions.

They would have to possess a concealed weapons permit. In addition, they would be required to complete a 40-hour school safety course and another 12 hours of firearms-related training.

The wisdom of having armed teachers or others on campus can be debated.

Some contend that armed personnel could respond quickly to threats. Steube points out in the majority of school shootings, the violence occurs in less than 15 minutes.

Others believe arming school personnel would increase the likelihood of accidents or students getting hold of the guns.

Although no safeguard is absolute, the legislation’s background and training requirements would minimize the chances of guns being handled carelessly. What is important is this legislation leaves such decisions to local officials, who best know their schools’ needs.

Hillsborough, with resource officers at middle schools and high schools and a plan to have armed security officials at every elementary school, might not want such a program. Other districts might find it useful. The measure, it should be stressed, is about school safety, not gun rights.

This worthy legislation trusts the judgment of local education officials; the gratuitous Pop-Tart bill undermines it.

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