Gov. Rick Scott and key members of the Florida Legislature offered ambitious proposals Friday that would plug some holes in the state’s safety net, strengthen school security and spend up to a half-billion dollars in response to last week’s massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in South Florida. Yet they predictably refused to embrace more meaningful gun controls such as banning the sale of assault rifles and high-capacity magazines while they promised to harden schools and hire more armed officers and teachers to patrol campuses. It’s an unbalanced strategy with too much emphasis on defending students during the next attack and not enough on reducing access to the weapons of choice of mass killers.
To their credit, Scott and Republican legislative leaders would raise the age to purchase any firearm to the handgun requirement of 21 years old, ban bump stocks that enable semi-automatic weapons to fire more rapidly, and create more ways to take guns away from people with mental health issues who pose a danger. A better system for identifying those needing mental health services and closer coordination among schools, law enforcement, social services agencies and the courts would address some security threats. There is a heartbreaking list of warnings about the Douglas High shooter that went unheeded.
Still, these proposals will put more, not fewer, guns on campuses. Adding more school resource officers is fine. But legislative leaders also propose creating a new program enabling teachers with the minimum law enforcement training to carry weapons. Teachers would have to complete 132 hours of training under the auspices of the local sheriff’s department, and school districts could decide whether to participate. While Scott thankfully does not propose arming teachers, he would allow sheriffs "to train additional school personnel" or reserve police officers if okayed by local school boards.
This is all an invitation to trouble. While many teachers may own guns for recreation or personal safety, they are not law enforcement officers, and even the training promised by lawmakers would be no substitute for experience. It is a far different environment engaging an active shooter than spending an afternoon at the gun range. Teachers lack the professional skill sets of police in assessing threats, handling weapons and controlling their emotions in a crisis that is rife with the risk of injuring innocent lives. Let teachers teach and let law enforcement officers do their job.
The National Rifle Association has trotted out such foolish ideas as arming teachers for years, and now President Donald Trump is repeating the NRA’s talking points. The president suggested deputizing up to 40 percent of a school’s staff and paying them bonuses to pack heat to defend campuses. At least the governor and state lawmakers aren’t buying into that absurd brainstorm.
Even experienced law enforcement officers can fail under pressure. The only armed deputy at Douglas High when the attack began took cover outside instead of tracking and confronting the killer. Throwing teachers into a firefight ignores the heroic role they already play on campuses under attack — rushing to corral students into locked classrooms and keeping them calm. The third grade teacher, the middle school drama teacher or the high school math teacher should not be carrying concealed weapons.
There are two weeks left in the legislative session, and the governor and legislative leaders have far-reaching proposals to make schools safer with plenty of positive provisions. Next week, the Legislature should improve these packages and listen to Floridians demanding stronger gun controls.