Florida Legislature passes bill expanding program to arm teachers

The Florida House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday allowing more teachers to carry firearms in school with the approval of local districts, in the latest response to last year's mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

The Republican-led House voted 65-47 to send the bill to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is expected to sign it. Five Republicans crossed party lines to vote against the bill, which was narrowly approved by the state Senate last week.

"It allows the good guys to stop the bad. The bad guys will never know when the good guys are there to shoot back," said Republican Rep. Chuck Brannan of Lake City, a retired law enforcement officer. "The guardian is the last line of defense. He or she will be there when a police officer is not."

The bill requires teachers interested in joining the school guardian program to undergo police-style training, psychiatric evaluation and drug screening. Under another law, passed immediately after the Parkland shooting, only teachers who have another role, such as sports coach, are eligible to carry weapons on campus.

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The Feb. 14, 2018, shooting at the Parkland high school left 17 people and injured 17 more. Nikolas Cruz, 20, faces the death penalty if convicted of those slayings.

Most Democrats voted against the bill, which was strongly opposed by teacher unions. Opponents contended that the introduction of more weapons in schools would place children at risk, raise the dangers of mistaken shootings and lead to more violence against African-American students because of inherent biases.

"We see accidents happen every day," said Rep. Susan Valdes, a Tampa Democrat. "This is not the answer. Don't put more guns in our schools."

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"There’s a reality that some of us have, that some of you in the front row couldn’t care less about," said an emotional Rep. Shevrin Jones, a Democrat from West Park, according to The Tampa Bay Times. "I asked for implicit bias training because we’re talking about black boys and girls that are getting murdered by police officers. ... There are bad police officers and there are bad teachers."

But the bill's sponsor, Republican Rep. Jennifer Sullivan of Eustis, said it was the best opportunity to protect schoolchildren from future shooters — and noted it was purely voluntary for teachers to become armed guardians.

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"If a teacher does not want to be a guardian, we don't require them to. This bill does not require districts to arm teachers," said Sullivan, who chairs the House Education Committee.

School boards in some of Florida's most populous counties have voted against joining the guardian program, preferring to leave the security job to trained police officers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.