Ten months ago, in the immediate emotional wake of the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the Florida Legislature surprised many — including themselves — by quickly passing a sweeping school security measure.
The lawmakers’ $400 million budget response was surprising because it bucked decades of Republican-led resistance to pleas from public school and safety advocates. Among other things, they increased the age to purchase a firearm in the state from 18 to 21, designated $75 million for dedicated mental health counselors in schools and required at least one trained “safe-school officer” be on every public school campus.
But in what can only be characterized as a gross over-reaction, the Legislature also gave those public school districts that didn’t want to pay for a safe-school officer the option of having trained “guardians” carry guns onto public school campuses.
As we’ve said previously, this was a bad idea for so many reasons; not the least of which is that it unnecessarily increases the risk of an innocent child being hurt. And yet another parent being devastated by the worst loss of all.
Yet, and still, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, the state panel created to make recommendations to beef up school security in the wake of the Parkland shooting, is recommending that gun-savvy teachers should also be able to have weapons in the classroom.
“You’ve got to have somebody there who can swiftly and effectively neutralize the threat, and that means killing the killer. The only way you are going to do that is if you have a good guy with a gun who can take that action,” Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who chairs the commission, told the News Service of Florida.
We couldn’t disagree more. The commission’s 407-page report on the Feb. 14 shooting, to be submitted to the Legislature by Jan. 1, does make good basic recommendations — such as safe corners in classrooms, locked or staffed doors and gates, and “Code Red” policies.
But the Legislature should reject the idea of expanding the guardian program to force reluctant school districts like Palm Beach County’s to allow teachers who have concealed-weapons licenses to get extra training and bring guns to school.
For years, state lawmakers, even many Republicans, had always considered this a bridge too far. They should not allow the fear that has gripped us since the Parkland school shooting to take us there now.
To be sure, that fear is understandable when 14 students — and three faculty members — are killed by deranged gunman with an assault-style weapon in what was supposed to be a safe space. But foisting the added responsibility of shooting back a that gunman upon a well-meaning, but stressed-out and overworked classroom teacher is not the answer. One thing that Parkland taught us is that even law-enforcement officers who live and breathe this type of training on a daily basis are not infallible in these intense situations.