Florida lawmakers have passed legislation that would allow more classroom teachers to carry guns in school.
Florida’s House of Representatives voted 65 to 47 to pass the bill after hours of debate over two days in which the Republican majority thwarted Democratic efforts to amend, stall or kill the measure. Florida’s Senate approved it 22 to 17 last week.
Republican Governor Ron DeSantis is expected to sign the bill into law, enabling school districts wishing to take part in the voluntary Guardian program to arm those teachers who pass a 144-hour training course.
The bill comes after 17 people were killed by a rifle-toting shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018. Nikolas Cruz faces the death penalty if convicted of those slayings.
President Donald Trump and the National Rifle Association have argued an armed teacher could provide the best defense against a shooter bent on mass murder. Rep. Chuck Brannan, R-Macclenny, said allowing the arming of school staff will serve as a powerful deterrent for anyone thinking of harming students.
“This bill is the ultimate school-hardening law,” said Brannan, a retired law enforcement officer from rural North Florida. “It allows the good guy to stop the bad. … The bad guy will never know when the good guy is going to be there to shoot back.”
The Democrats believe the teachers don’t need guns, they need other support.
“Teachers need to teach,” said Rep. Mike Gottlieb, D-Davie. “We need to create a more nurturing, loving environment in a school so people don’t grow up to become monsters. … We are creating a police state. It is wrong.”
The bill was strongly opposed by teachers unions, and school boards in some of Florida’s most populous counties have voted against joining the guardian program, preferring instead to leave the security job to trained police officers. But the bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Jennifer Sullivan of Eustis, said it was the best opportunity to protect school children from future shooters — and noted it was purely voluntary for teachers to become armed guardians.
“If a teacher does not want to be a guardian, we don’t require them to. This bill does not require districts to arm teachers,” said Sullivan, chair of the House Education Committee.