Can Teachers be Legally Armed in Florida Schools?
The answer is a qualified “yes.” Florida has brought in a new law this year allowing school districts the option of arming teachers to try and prevent mass shootings in schools, or at least dealing with a shooter if such a situation arises. As schools open up for a new school year, though, it seems that fewer than expected school districts have taken up the option.
The decision to change the law came about after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland in February last year, when 17 people, mostly high school students, were killed and 17 more injured. Mass shootings have become a depressingly regular event across the U.S. and official responses to it have revealed a wide gulf in attitude. Firearm legislation and how to go about curtailing mass shootings is something of a political hot potato. Some states, like Utah, South Dakota, Arkansas and Texas already allow teachers to carry concealed firearms, although they cannot do so without regulation. In New York, on the other hand, Governor Cuomo has banned school districts from allowing teachers to carry guns on campus.
Florida passed its own legislation allowing public schools in Florida school districts to nominate at least one “public safety” officer per school. The public safety officer could be a law enforcement officer (school cop), a resource officer, security guard, or a “guardian.” Teachers would fit into the “guardian” category when the original Bill, passed not long after the Parkland massacre, was expanded this year.
Any school that wishes to allow teachers / guardians to carry firearms while at school must ensure they pass a psychological and drug screening program and complete a minimum of 144 hours of training first.
There was no compulsion for school districts to deploy armed personnel at any of their schools. There was initial enthusiasm for the change in the law, but this does seem to have evaporated somewhat as time has elapsed. The number of law enforcement officers and guardians is actually quite high, but it seems that few of the guardians are actually teachers. Only 7 of the 67 state school districts have actually approved of arming teachers. Most of the districts that have approved armed teachers are relatively small, rural counties. The largest, urban, school districts like Miami-Dade, Orange and Broward have not approved teacher guardians.
Opposition to arming teachers seems to have mostly come from teachers themselves and their representatives, although the policy and response to danger in schools is a polarizing subject. Some teachers think that there would be an enhanced security risk if teachers were allowed to carry guns, even if they were concealed. There have been 74 incidents in U.S. schools where unintentional firearm incidents have occurred. One that made international headlines was when a gun went off ‘accidentally” in a school classroom when the teacher who as carrying it was using it to show students how to use a gun safely.
Whatever the politics, as a teacher in a Florida school, you can’t just turn up at school carrying a concealed handgun just because you think you and your students will be safer. Maybe they will, but you can only do so if you have been approved as a guardian in that school.
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