FLORIDA — Starting Tuesday, a controversial law will allow some teachers in Florida to carry guns inside the classroom. The bill was initially passed in response to the Parkland school shooting last year where 17 students and staff were killed.
We may never have an exact number of how many teachers will carry weapons because they’re supposed to remain anonymous for their safety. School districts are allowed to opt out of arming teachers, and two of the state’s largest school districts including Miami-Dade and Orlando have elected to do so, but a handful of smaller school districts are all in.
Students in Bay County Schools – located along the Florida Panhandle – may be walking into a classroom Tuesday morning where the teacher is carrying a concealed handgun.
“Everybody wants to know ‘How do we prevent it?’ How can we stop it. We don’t look at it as we want more guns, we look at it as we want more protection,” said Bay County Schools Superintendent Bill Husfelt.
The schools already have an armed resource officer but the so-called Guardian Program which had allowed some staff and coaches to carry guns on campus after a background check, psychological exam and more than 140 hours of range training – now extends to teachers. For Husfelt, this is personal.
In 2010, a gun-wielding man walked into a school board meeting, eventually firing right at Husfelt and others. He missed and was shot by a security guard before taking his own life.
“You know experiencing that myself put a different spin on it and a different understanding about what goes on in those situations,” Husfelt said. “You know, until you’re standing in front of someone with a gun pointed at you you don’t realize how helpless you really are.”
According to the Education Commission of the States, Florida joins eight other states that have laws allowing some teachers to carry guns on campus.
Critics include family members whose loved ones died in last year’s Parkland shooting themselves, like Tony Montalto and Debbi Hixon. Montalto lost his daughter Gina and Hixon’s husband Chris was the school’s athletic director.
“Teachers should not be burdened whether they think they want to or not with the responsibility of worrying about carrying a firearm,” Hixon said.
They argue that mental health programs and responsible firearm ownership are better deterrents to mass shootings and that armed personnel should remain outside the classroom.
“We do believe in the Guardian Program, we do believe in school resource officers, and we do believe in having trained police officers on the campus,” Montalto said. “We need an armed person on campus able and willing to react properly.”
Some critics also say the state lacks oversight over the program, including ensuring their training is sufficient. It’s worth pointing out the state’s largest school districts including those in Miami and Orlando have opted out of the program, choosing to rely on armed police officers instead.