After two days of impassioned debate, Florida’s House of Representatives passed a controversial bill on Wednesday that would permit classroom teachers to carry guns in schools. The bill was already approved by the Senate; it now goes before Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, who is expected to sign it.
Last year, the legislature created a “guardian” program that allows districts to arm school staff, with the exception of teachers who “exclusively perform classroom duties,” according to the Miami Herald. The new bill would remove that exception.
Once the bill is enacted, it will be up to districts to decide whether they want to allow teachers to be armed. Many do not. As NPR member station WLRN reports, most of Florida’s school districts have declined to create guardian programs, opting instead to put law enforcement officers in each school. Just 25 of the state’s 67 school districts have approved the guardian programs; many of them are in rural areas.
Debate over the bill was highly charged and often emotional, as lawmakers discussed what could happen when teachers have guns in the classroom.
State Sen. Oscar Braynon, whose district includes part of Broward and Miami-Dade counties, told WLRN that he was concerned about adding more guns to communities already struggling with gun violence.
“I unfortunately have to deal with parents who have lost children often because this gun violence is prevalent in my community,” said Braynon, a Democrat who voted against the bill. “A gun being in a classroom, however it is that they’re planning to do it … just the concept brings a different environment for those children.”
Republicans in favor of the bill cited a commission’s investigation of the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in which the panel recommended arming teachers. The Herald notes the commission was led by Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who has become a prominent advocate for increasing armed protection at schools.
Under the program, teachers would need to pass a 144-hour training course before they could be armed. Employees at schools in 40 of the state’s 67 counties have already either enrolled in that course or plan to do so, Reuters reports, citing a spokesman for the Speaker of the House.