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.
The Republican House majority rejected more than 20 amendments proposed by Democrats, including one that would have required implicit bias training for armed teachers.
"I asked for implicit bias training because we're talking about black boys and girls that are getting murdered by police officers!" yelled state Rep. Shevrin Jones, a Democrat, during the debate over the measure, according to the Herald. "There are bad police officers and there are bad teachers."
Ryan Petty, whose daughter was killed in the Parkland shooting, supported the bill.
"This allows school districts to add those classroom educators into the pool of guardian-eligible participants and allow them to go through the same process a guardian would go through," Petty said, according to WLRN. "School districts need the flexibility to choose as they figure out for themselves what's the best way to protect kids in their districts."
The superintendent of schools in Broward County, where Parkland is located, said that the county will continue to not arm teachers.
"The Broward County School Board voted on a resolution against arming teachers in March 2018," Robert Runcie said in a statement to the Herald. "We do not believe arming teachers is the best way to make our schools safe."
Florida is among at least nine states that allow school employees to carry firearms on K-12 school grounds, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.