Florida State Senator Defends Arming Teachers on Campuses

Upper house of legislature approved program to let selected school employees carry guns — under tight restrictions and rigorous training

A controversial provision of gun legislation that passed the Florida state Senate Monday is being mischaracterized, a state lawmaker said Tuesday.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, named for the site of last month’s mass shooting, would raise the legal age to buy a firearm from 18 to 21, require a three-day waiting period for most gun purchases, and ban possession of devices that make semi-automatic weapons operate like automatic firearms.

But the provision that has gotten most of the attention would allow school employees, under tight regulations, to carry guns in school.

State Sen. Bill Galvano, a Republican who represents Manatee County in the Tampa Bay area, said on “The Laura Ingraham Show” that it would not “arm teachers,” as critics have insisted. Volunteers would have to complete 132 hours of firearms training, 12 hours of diversity training, and a psychological evaluation and criminal background check.

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What’s more, Galvano, noted, the local school system and sheriff would have to sign off. And it excludes classroom teachers, he added.

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“There’s a lot of political posturing going on, and people are using the catchphrase that we’re ‘arming teachers,'” said Galvano, who co-sponsored the bill. “No, we’re giving teachers the opportunity, if they so choose, to go through a rigorous training and become a deputized law enforcement officer in addition to their duties. And no one’s making anyone do anything.”

It is unclear how many school systems would endorse the idea, and how many employees would be willing to take on the major commitment that would be required. Galvano told Ingraham that legislators modeled the proposal on a program begun by the sheriff in Polk County, Florida, for higher education employees.

The so-called Sentinel Program attracted 20 applicants, six of whom made it through the training, Galvano said.

“We have heard from teachers and other personnel that it’s a program that there would be some interest in,” he added.

Galvano said some people falsely have identified the National Rifle Association (NRA) as the instigator of what has become known as the “Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program,” after the football coach and unarmed security guard who died during the February 14 shooting in Parkland, Florida.

“Law enforcement told us you need a force multiplier.”

“This legislation is not an NRA legislation,” he said. “This was actually an organic discussion that occurred in the Senate and tried to find balance.”

Galvano said there is only so much police can do to prevent school shootings.

“Law enforcement told us you need a force multiplier,” he sad. “You know, the perpetrator in Parkland, Florida, was in the school building for seven minutes. Within the first few minutes, there was tremendous, horrific damage done and lives lost. And to just assume that we shouldn’t explore ways to respond more quickly and with force is to not realize what you’re actually dealing with.”

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Galvano said there are other ways to improve school security as well. He pointed to an additional $100 million in funding for schools to hire more armed school resource officers — full-time, sworn law enforcement officers who patrol school buildings.

“But we need to have other options out there instead of just leaving teachers with their students trapped in classrooms,” he said.

To become law, the bill still must pass the Florida House of Representatives. Its passage in the Senate had been far from certain; it cleared the chamber on a 20-18 vote. But Galvano expressed optimism.

“I think there’s a high likelihood,” he said.

PoliZette senior writer Brendan Kirby can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter.

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