TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - The debate whether safety is worth the risk of having more guns on school campuses took center stage in a Florida House committee, which approved a bill Wednesday that would allow trained officials to carry weapons in schools.
This issue has been argued nationwide since school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, Virginia Tech University, Columbine High School in Colorado and others. One side believes armed officials are better equipped to handle an emergency situation. The other argues that more guns in schools only increase the odds of something happening.
The bill (HB 753) approved 8-4 by House Justice Appropriations committee is sponsored by Greg Steube, a Republican from Sarasota. It gives schools the option to appoint former or current law enforcement officers and former or current military officers with state-legislated training to carry firearms on campus.
They would be required to go through 40 hours of school-safety training and eight hours of active-shooter training each year. They also would need four hours of firearm qualification annually.
They'd be required to have a carry-and-conceal permit. Local school boards or principals would make the appointments. Next up for the House bill is the Judiciary Committee.
Steube argued that school-shooting incidents such as Sandy Hook take place in a matter of minutes that is less than many average police response times. A trained, armed official on the property could save lives before police arrive.
"I think the schools themselves would appreciate knowing that somebody highly trained was there," Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Palatka, said, "so that some idiot that brought a gun to school with the intention of killing people could be stopped at a far sooner place than calling law enforcement, which might take a good long time to get there."
Representatives for the Florida School Board Association and Parent Teacher Association opposed the bill. The PTA would rather have further investment in school resource officers and intervention programs.
"FSBA believes that only highly trained professional law enforcement officers can be entrusted with weaponry on our school grounds," said school board representative Ruth Melton.
Some opponents preferred preventative measures instead of allowing more firearms. There was also concern with having volunteers in these positions regardless of their training.
"There are things we can do other than adding more guns to the school that can keep our children safe," said Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, who has sheriffs in his district on both sides of the issue.
The accompanying Senate bill (SB 968) was approved by the Criminal Justice committee and is waiting to be heard in the Education committee. It wasn't brought up at the last two education meetings.
"If they don't want to do it, they don't have to do it," Steube said. "My local school board members, who I just met with last week, they had a very different opinion on the legislation and they might actually take advantage of it.
"Each school board would have the opportunity to decide this for themselves."
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