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Armed to defend; Should K-12 teachers carry firearms in schools?

by Mallory Culhane

On Tuesday, Oct. 1, a law that allows Florida K-12 teachers to carry firearms in schools went into effect.

The law, which was made in response to the 2018 Parkland shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, allows teachers to carry firearms through an expansion of the Guardian Program. The program requires drug screenings, psychological testing, and 144 hours of training for an individual to be eligible to carry a firearm. Guardians that participate are also given a one-time stipend of $500 to participate.

“I do not think teachers should be allowed to carry firearms with them throughout the day,” said McKenzie Mazzella, UT sophomore communication major. “In my opinion if a teacher wanted to carry a firearm, they would have chosen a different career path.”

School districts are able to participate in the program, but not required. The program also does not require teachers to carry even if the school district is opted in to the program; it’s on a voluntary basis and is left at their own discretion.

The law also introduces a number of added security measures. It provides districts with additional armed security guards that are chosen by the sheriff’s office, improving psychological treatment resources for at-risk students, and annual training and security risk assessments.

The bill was passed and signed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in May.   

Jeff Eakins, Hillsborough County superintendent, released a statement back in May when the bill passed. Eakins stated that teachers will not be carrying guns in the district.

“I want to be very clear, teachers in Hillsborough County Public Schools will NOT carry weapons,” Eakins said in the statement. “In order for teachers and staff to be armed in any school, our school district would have to opt-in to this part of the Guardian program. WE HAVE NO PLANS TO OPT-IN.”

Neighboring counties Pasco, Pinellas, and Manatee have also refused to arm teachers.

So far there seems to be a trend that larger counties are opting out of arming teachers – like Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, and Orange. Smaller counties, however, in more rural areas are very accepting of teachers carrying firearms.

Bay County School District, located in the Florida panhandle, has decided to opt-in for the program and arm teachers.

“Everybody wants to know ‘How do we prevent it?’ How can we stop it. We don’t look at it as we want more guns, we look at it as we want more protection,” said Bay County Schools superintendent, Bill Husfelt in a CBS article.

Florida joins eight other states that allow teachers to carry firearms – including Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming.

The government doesn’t track the number of schools or teachers with firearms, according to a Fox article published earlier this month. This, among many other things, have caused concern for some.

Abbey Hill, sophomore secondary math education major, has wanted to be a teacher since she was in kindergarten. Now, with the gun debate heating up and more states offering guns to teachers, she said she’s uneasy about the possibility of having to use a firearm in the future.

“If that’s in the description to be a teacher, I don’t want to do that,” said Hill. “It shouldn’t be like that in the first place.” 

Hill supports the additional security measures like annual assessments and mental health resources for at-risk students, but believes that introducing guns to teachers creates more problems than solutions.

“I also don’t trust kids,” said Hill. “I feel like it creates a whole different kind of environment once you introduce guns to the classroom and it shouldn’t even happen in the first place.”

According to The New York Times, 39 of 67 counties in Florida participate in the program to arm teachers.

Mazzella grew up and attended school in Manatee County.

“As sad as it is, I’m not sure if these additional measures will reduce the likelihood of a mass shooting,” said Mazzella.

States aren’t set to slow down with arming teachers. Last December, the White House’s Federal Commission on School Safety recommended that school districts consider arming faculty and staff, included in their school safety report. 

“That’s not what a teacher’s job is…the teacher’s job is not to be a security guard or a cop it’s to go to school and build a relationship with students and teach them material, not defend against a shooter,” said Hill.  

Mallory Culhane can be reached at mallory.culhane@theminaretonline.com

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