Florida Senate Backs Off Arming Teachers but Wants Guns for School Staff
Photo by Ian Witlen

Florida Senate Backs Off Arming Teachers but Wants Guns for School Staff

Florida's Senate is backing off its ludicrous post-Parkland plan of arming schoolteachers, so your child might not end up getting accidentally shot by a math teacher after all. But a librarian, school nurse, or guidance counselor might still unwittingly fire at your children.

During a debate over SB 7026, the state Senate's rushed response to the Stoneman Douglas mass shooting, legislators agreed to strip away the measure's most controversial idea: letting "qualified" teachers apply to become gun-toting "marshals" who teach biology or wood shop while strapped with loaded firearms.

The Senate agreed to seriously revamp that provision today, writing in an amendment that the "marshal" program would be renamed and be open onlu to part-time teachers or school employees. The amendment passed by a unanimous voice vote today.

The new legal language now raises a whole bunch of questions that lawmakers are still debating at the state Capitol right now, including whether the bill would let coaches or substitute teachers walk around with weapons in schools.

The shift is a microcosm of all the worst aspects of Tallahassee culture: Florida legislators began with a dreadful idea (arming teachers) pushed by high-powered National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer. After public outcry, including from members of law enforcement and the military, and then a school-shooting scare from an armed Georgia teacher last week, the provision was watered down into something that pleases no one.

As a reminder, a recent Quinnipiac poll shows a majority of Florida voters want a ban on assault weapons and do not actually want substitute study-hall instructors patrolling class with handguns. Fellow state Sen. Gary Farmer proposed much clearer language banning "all instructional personnel" from carrying weapons, but that idea was naturally shot down, per Politico's Matt Dixon:

Instead, if the bill becomes a law, Florida schools will still have more guns than they did previously, just not as many as originally pitched. For what it's worth, the bill hints of good by allocating as much as $138 million in new funding for mental-health treatment in Florida schools.

But the bill is anything but transformative for Florida. A host of psychiatric experts told Politico last week that the state's mental-health-care system is neither regulated nor advanced enough to catch possible shooters like Nikolas Cruz before they act. In fact, the experts who spoke to Politico worry that the new bill would instead create a secondary, "shadow mental-health" system in Florida schools instead of pumping money into the state's terribly underfunded programs for mental health care.

So there you have it: Provided SB 7026 eventually passes, you might not have to worry about a biology teacher brandishing a Glock at your kids if they forget their homework. But a lunch aide might still light them up for forgetting to recycle.

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