Parkland commission's recommendation for armed teachers draws backlash

A recommendation to allow for armed teachers in classrooms by the state panel investigating the February mass shooting at a Florida high school is drawing controversy. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission voted 13-1 Wednesday to recommend the state Legislature allow teachers who volunteer and undergo extensive background checks and training be allowed to carry concealed guns on campus to stop future shootings. 

The commission said it's not enough to have one or two police officers or armed guards on campus. Florida law adopted after the Feb. 14 shooting allows districts to arm non-teaching staff members such as principals, librarians and custodians — 13 of the 67 districts do, mostly in rural parts of the state.

The Parkland shooting left 17 people dead and spurred a group of students from the school to become vocal activists for stronger gun control measures

The commission met Wednesday and Thursday to finalize a more than 400-page draft report. They are expected to deliver the findings to Governor Rick Scott by Jan. 1.

Supporters argue that even the best response by law enforcement will likely take two to three minutes to confront a shooter, while teachers could immediately. But critics say adding guns will make schools less safe and that teachers should not also have to be armed guards. Among the opponents of the recommendation are state teachers' unions and some family members of victims of the school shooting.

Commissioner Max Schachter, whose 14-year-old son Alex died in the massacre, cast the lone vote against the motion. He said the state should focus on hiring more police officers for campuses and allowing non-teaching staff to carry guns.

"We do need more good guys with a gun on campus — nobody understands that and wishes we had more at Marjory Stoneman Douglas than myself," Schachter said. But arming teachers "creates a host of problems."

How everyday people are training to take down school shooters

Debbi Hixon, the widow of school athletics director Chris Hixon, who was slain in the massacre, also voiced opposition to the plan to CBS affiliate WCTV.

"Even if a teacher thinks they're up to that task, I just think it's unfair to have that expectation for them," said Hixon.

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, whose district includes Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, has said law enforcement's duty to protect the community shouldn't be pushed "on to civilians that should be focused on educating their students." The Florida Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, argues guns in the classroom would put students in harm's way, reports WCTV.

"The line in the sand is this: teachers want to teach," said FEA President Fedrick Ingram told the station. "They don't want to carry guns. That is the responsibility of trained professionals."

Rob Kriete, president of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, told television station WFTS that arming teachers would be "absurd." He advocated instead for the state to provide funding for mental health services for students.

"You are putting a band-aid on a gaping wound that is really the mental health issues we really need to get to. And we feel like in this state we need to start funding that properly," Kriete told the station. "Get psychologists [and] the wrap-around services kids need at the school."

Some students say they still feel unsafe as new school year starts at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, the commission's chairman, has pushed the proposal to arm trained teachers. He said most deaths in school shootings happen within the first few minutes, before officers on and off campus can respond. He said suspect Nikolas Cruz stopped to reload his AR-15 semi-automatic rifle five times, all of which would have been opportunities for an armed teacher to shoot him.

"We have to give people a fighting chance, we have to give them an opportunity to protect themselves," Gualtieri said. He said there aren't enough officers or money to hire one for every school, but even then officers need backup. "One good guy with a gun on campus is not enough."

Florida's Senate president Bill Galvano said Thursday he is "very open" to the proposal. He said he wants a "realistic conversation" about what arming teachers would accomplish and that he plans to speak to opponents like the state teachers union and PTA.

Currently, teachers in 28 states can carry firearms, according to the Crime Prevention Research Center, a conservative nonprofit organization. District approval is required in most states and restrictions and training requirements vary.