House panel approves guns for teachers

A Florida House committee voted Thursday for a broad school safety bill that would expand an existing guardian program to allow classroom teachers to volunteer to carry weapons on campus if local school boards approve.

The Republican-led legislation adopted 11-5 along party lines by the House Education Committee builds on a law passed after last year’s mass shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Teachers would not be required to carry guns, but those who volunteer would have to undergo 144 hours of firearms training, possess a valid concealed weapon permit and pass both a psychological evaluation and drug test.

Currently, teachers whose sole focus is classroom instruction are excluded from the program that as of January numbered about 726 armed volunteer guardians in 25 Florida counties, according to a committee staff analysis.

The provision is opposed by major teacher unions and other groups who say educators should not take on the role of trained law enforcement personnel. Opponents also raised a number of risky scenarios, such as teachers losing a gun or having one stolen on campus, the possibility of a child or teacher being accidentally shot and potential deadly escalation of confrontations with students or fights.

“Teachers want to teach children and broaden children’s minds,” said Democratic Rep. Susan Valdes of Tampa. “If they wanted to be a cop, they would have gone to police academy and become a cop.”

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