Florida's New Gun Restrictions Have Come at the Cost of Arming School Staff  


More than three weeks after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed gun reform legislation (SB 7026) that includes $400 million to improve school safety, mental health access, as well as the controversial “school guardians” program. The bill, mixed though it is, includes the first gun restrictions the state has passed in decades.

The bill, passed by the overwhelmingly Republican Legislature on Wednesday, requires that anyone purchasing a gun from a licensed firearms dealer be at least 21-years-old, as well as mandating a three-day waiting period (handgun purchases were already restricted to persons 21 and older). It also grants police more authority to confiscate weapons under what gun control advocates call a “red flag” law.

SB 7026 also approves the controversial “school guardian” program, which is a delicate way of saying that librarians across Florida may soon be carrying deadly weapons. The guardian program will allow school staff, with the exception of those who are exclusively teachers, to carry guns on campus. It also allows teachers who are members of National Guard or United States Reserves to carry weapons, as well as former law enforcement officers. Some Florida Senators were unclear, however, on the language in the bill, particularly the language that excluded “individuals who exclusively perform classroom duties as classroom teachers.” Senator Gary Farmer (D-Broward County) said in a statement: “This means that if a teacher performs any additional service on behalf of the school, he/she will be allowed to carry a gun into a classroom. If a teacher is also a coach, or the moderator of a club, as is often the case, they would be allowed to carry a firearm at a school.”

Supporters of the bill, meanwhile, stressed that the school guardian program was optional and districts could choose not to participate. By Thursday, the Miami Herald reported that some of the state’s largest school districts announced that they would opt-out of the school guardian program, including Broward County, where Stoneman Douglas is located.

It was initially unclear whether or not Scott would sign the bill. “I’ve been clear. I don’t think we ought to be arming teachers,” he said in a press conference earlier this week. But even if the bill was controversial in the state legislature—much of it opposed by Marion Hammer, Florida’s powerful NRA lobbyist—it managed to squeak through both chambers, with some legislators crossing party lines, in large part because all seventeen of families who lost children at Stoneman Douglas supported the bill.

The Tampa Bay Times reports that two of those parents were in Tallahassee on Wednesday, urging legislators to pass SB 7036. Even then it was unclear whether or not Scott would sign the bill, but after the governor met Parkland families, reporters noted the meeting “raised expectations” that he would.

Even before Scott announced his support for the legislation on Friday afternoon, President Trump took credit for the Florida bill. “I want to congratulate the state of Florida and your representatives on some very good legislation that’s been passed,” Trump said during a Cabinet meeting on Thursday. He continued, as he usually does, by praising his own persuasive leadership skills: “I guess they’ve been listening to me a lot more because, unexpectedly, they passed concealed-carry for some very special teachers that have a great ability with weapons and with guns.”

Florida is now the first state with a program for arming school staff. Scott called the legislation “historic,” noting that it was the first legislation he’s signed in 2018. What exactly that history will look like is something we’re about to find out.

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