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Lawmakers Must Abandon the Dangerous Idea of Arming Teachers and Focus on Proven School Safety Solutions

On Tuesday, the Florida Senate voted to advance SB 7030, a bill which would expand the Guardian Program established in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act by allowing classroom teachers to be armed, possibly over the objection of local sheriffs. Though much of the bill deals with common-sense school safety measures, the proposal to arm teachers would put students in harm’s way and must be rejected.

Arming teachers is an incredibly risky proposal that does not make children in school or the school community safer. In fact, it increases the risks every day a gun is present in the school, including the chances that guns will be misused, be unintentionally discharged or fall into the wrong hands. From 2013 to 2018, approximately 20 percent of gunfire incidents in K through 12 schools were unintentional.

Though educators want to do everything possible to protect their students, the presence of guns in the classroom poses too great a risk. This month, an article in the Miami New Times highlighted instances of Florida teachers misusing, or threatening to misuse, guns. A few of the many examples from the article include:

A high-school teacher in Duval County told students in her class they were lucky she “didn’t have a gun in [her] purse, because after their behavior the prior day, she would shoot them.”

A middle-school teacher in Polk County told another teacher that he “pictured a bullet going into the front of [redacted student name]’s head and coming out the back.” He also told the other teacher that at target practice, he thought about shooting his students and co-workers.

A middle-school teacher and basketball coach in Duval County brought a gun to school and showed it to students

Unintentional discharges and guns getting into the hands of students are common occurrences when guns are brought into schools. In fact, just last week, a Texas school resource officer’s gun unintentionally discharged while he was at school.

That’s why educators overwhelmingly oppose legislation that would allow them to carry guns in classrooms. And despite SB 7030’s Senate passage, school boards across Florida are standing up against this bill by pledging to never arm their teachers. On Tuesday, the Manatee school board joined the Sarasota school board, Pinellas school board and Hillsborough school board in its vote not to allow teachers to be armed even if the legislation is signed into law.

Experts agree that gun violence in schools is a complicated problem that needs to be approached with proven effective solutions. A 2018 report from the Department of Homeland Security stated that “preventing violence by detecting and addressing these [behavioral] red flags is more effective than any physical security measure.” This year, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund released a report providing clear guidance for lawmakers on policies that have proven to be effective at intervening prior to a shooting while also supporting safe and healthy learning environments. Recommendations from the report include:

Passing policies proven to help keep guns away from people who shouldn’t have them in the first place, such as responsible firearm storage laws, laws that raise the age to purchase semiautomatic firearms and requiring background checks on all gun sales.

Implementing Red Flag laws, which allow families and law enforcement to intervene and temporarily restrict a person’s access to guns when there are clear warning signs they pose a threat to themselves or others.

Improving the physical security of schools with tactics endorsed by experts like installing internal locks and limiting the number of entry points and who can enter schools.

Supporting the health of students by providing more counselors, psychologists, and social workers to help increase mental health services and social-emotional support in schools.

Embracing intervention strategies that can be implemented by school districts, including threat assessment programs that train educators and school personnel on how to safely and effectively intervene when there are signs that a student is in crisis or poses a risk.

Legislators, educators, parents and law enforcement all want to keep students safe at school, but arming teachers is not the answer. Instead, school safety legislation must focus on comprehensive solutions that gun safety advocates, school safety experts and educators agree would truly keep our schools safe.