BRADENTON – State Representative Greg Steube (R-Lakewood Ranch) filed HB 1097-School Safety last week, which would allow principals to designate employees who could carry concealed firearms while working. The legislator says it will provide for safer learning environments, but not everyone is sure that arming school employees is the best way for that to happen.
|Rep. Greg Steube
“We are all deeply concerned about the well-being of our children and we must come to a consensus on how to prevent violent crimes from occurring on school grounds," said Steube in an email to constituents. "As a father and a son of a teacher, I feel a responsibility to my community and my state to address the safety of our students and teaching personnel. With this bill, schools will be better equipped to protect their faculty and students. The safekeeping of our schools is imperative.”
HB 1097 would "allow a school principal to designate one or more members of school personnel to carry a concealed firearm or weapon while performing his or her official duties." Designated personnel would be required to complete additional training and coursework covering emergency procedures, life safety, methods of prevention, terrorism awareness and firearm proficiency.
Manatee County School Board Chair Karen Carpenter said she welcomed conversation on the subject, but wasn't sure of the approach.
"I think we need to have discussion and look at ways to make sure we are doing everything possible to keep students safe when they're in our schools," said Carpenter. "I still think that when it comes to situations where someone is armed, however, law enforcement officers are best equipped for those situations."
The bill would also require schools that did not have at least one employee designated to carry a concealed weapon to employ a school safety officer. In recent years, many school districts have had to drastically cut back on safety officers, who were already used in a limited capacity, in order to deal with the massive budget cuts brought on by declining property tax revenues and historic reductions in the state education budget.
Requiring schools to have either a designated armed employee or face the budgetary burden of adding a safety officer will likely be seen as an unfunded mandate. If the bill becomes law, school districts that decide they are uncomfortable with the idea of arming non-law enforcement personnel would only be able to escape such a scenario by paying to put a safety officer in every school, which might pressure the most revenue-challenged districts to accept the policy, while those able to afford the alternative can avoid it.
"I'm concerned about Tallahassee making another decision that dictates how local school districts make these decisions, without providing the funding to do so," said Manatee County School Board member Dave "Watchdog" Miner. "I think that local governments are in the best position to decide how to keep the students in their community safe in school, and I think they also need to be the ones deciding how to use their financial resources to do so."
Proponents argue that in a scenario such as the Sandy Hook Massacre, having armed teachers on the premises could have stopped the killer much sooner than the time it took for law enforcement to arrive, potentially saving lives. Opponents say that the risk of bringing a flood of guns into schools, even with precautions taken, can potentially lead to more tragedies than they prevent.