Miami-Dade Considers Gun Safety Classes for All School Kids

As an educator with more than 30 years in the field, Miami-Dade Commissioner Rebeca Sosa has kept a depressing tally of the increasing number of Miami-Dade children plagued by gun violence. In 2016, more than 30 minors were fatally shot. Last December alone, a 2-year-old, three 16-year-olds, and a 17-year-old lost their lives to guns.

In the wake of the shooting that killed 17 students in Parkland, Sosa is now proposing new gun safety measures to address violence against school-aged children. A resolution sponsored by Sosa and discussed by commissioners Wednesday would establish gun safety classes to be taught by Miami-Dade Police in the county's public and private schools.

"I felt that as a teacher, there had to be something we could do in the same way we educate them on how to say no to drugs or how to speak up and find the proper person if someone is abusing them," says Sosa, who works as a curriculum facilitator at Lindsey Hopkins Technical Education Center. "We need to start teaching them early in life about the dangers of guns."

Commissioners on the county's Public Safety and Health Committee voted Wednesday to give school administrators a chance to weigh in on the idea before sending the proposal to the full commission. John Schuster, a spokesman for the school district, tells New Times the district already teaches some aspects of gun safety but is open to the idea.

"There are several programs that address gun safety at different grade levels, including Citizens’ Crime Watch, Kindergarten Cops, and Together for Children, [which] all provide particular aspects of gun safety education for kids," Schuster wrote in an email. "We are thankful, however, for the input of seasoned educators like Commissioner Sosa, who brings a lifetime of teaching experience and public service to the table with her, to suggest and develop new programs and see them succeed."

Sosa says she envisions the program as something similar to DARE, a drug prevention curriculum that Miami-Dade Police teach in local elementary schools. She stresses to New Times that the program would be strictly educational, not political.

"This has nothing to do with being in favor of or against guns," she says. "I think that many children, if they see guns around them, they don't have the slightest idea of what the instrument is. That can place them in a very dangerous and awkward position and cause damage to themselves or others because they think it's a toy."

Sosa didn't attend Wednesday's committee meeting to explain the resolution, and her colleagues gave some pushback about whether it's practical or safe to teach younger children about guns.

"We don't run the school system," Commissioner Barbara Jordan pointed out. "Shouldn't this be done in conjunction with the superintendent?"

Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz said he believed parents should have the right to teach their children about guns without interference from the school system.

"I know the intent is good from my colleague, but I'm kind of torn up," he said. "I think a lot of parents don't want their children to have any education on weapons. I think that's something that really belongs to the parents, to decide what they want to teach them or not teach them."

The next opportunity to discuss the item won't be until next month, when the committee meets May 9. Sosa said she's open to feedback from constituents or other commissioners.

"I like to hear from the public or my colleagues to suggest amendments that make it better," she says. "We're doing our best to address this from every corner with the crisis that we have. The educational piece is just a part of everything else we have."

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