TALLAHASSEE – The Florida House on Monday passed legislation that would allow trained officials to carry guns in schools, but with the matter stalled in the Senate, the bill may not become law this session.
The House bill, sponsored by Sarasota Republican Greg Steube, passed 71-44.
"We have inadvertently made schools ... a sterile target," said Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who voted for the measure. "We are not safe when we create an environment where those who are deranged can go and do reckless damage."
The issue has been argued nationwide since school shootings at Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary, Virginia Tech University, Columbine High School in Colorado and others. One side says armed officials are better equipped to handle emergency situations. The other argues that the presence of more guns in schools increases the odds of another incident.
Supporters of the Florida bill stressed that each school district would have the choice to arm officials if the measure passed.
Under the legislation, the armed officials would have to be former or current law enforcement officers or former or current military officers. They would be required to pass background screening, possess a concealed weapon license, and annually participate in active shooter training and firearm proficiency training. The bill also requires schools to conduct active shooter and hostage drills. Local law enforcement would conduct the training.
"You cannot prevent evil from occurring in this country," Steube said. "You can do whatever background checks you want, whatever psychologicals you want. You're not going to prevent evil people from doing evil things.
"Let's give our children a chance if somebody walks through that door -- somebody there armed to be able to (have a) properly trained response to the shooter."
The Senate version of the bill has been stuck in a committee since mid-March. It is unclear whether it can advance to the floor for a vote with just days remaining in the 2014 session.
Rep. Carl Zimmerman, D-Dunedin, said he supported Steube's bill the past two years but voted against this year's version because of a change in the training requirement. Earlier versions of the bill required 40 hours of school-safety training. Steube said that was removed because the Florida Sheriffs Association recommended that the training shouldn't be limited to an hour amount.
Several opponents continued to push for a further investment in school resource officers instead of armed volunteers.
"I just don't want Barney Fife to be trying to get his one bullet out and try to put it in there to protect our children," Rep. Dwayne Taylor, D-Daytona Beach, said, who voted against the measure.
Supporters of the legislation noted that not all schools have school resource officers and that some rural campuses don't have nearby police stations to quickly respond to a shooting. Steube quoted a 2002 U.S. Department of Education and Secret Service report that said most shooting incidents were stopped by means other than law enforcement.
"If there's nobody there within five minutes, most of the devastation and destruction has been done," he said.
Rep. Elaine Schwartz, D-Hollywood, asked why psychological evaluations were not included as requirements in the bill, and said that in many instances, former military members "have gone berserk" because of posttraumatic stress disorder or other problems.
"It is truly dangerous to put guns in the hands of people who will have access to the schools and authority without any psychological testing," Schwartz said.