Greg Steube-authored bill requiring guns in Florida schools prompts questions, criticism

Herald Staff WritersMarch 1, 2013 

MANATEE -- In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary school shootings, Florida State Rep. Greg Steube has filed a bill that is aimed at guaranteeing at least one armed person on every school campus.

The bill will require Florida educators to provide a security officer or a resource officer for every school, or designate one or more school employees to carry a concealed firearm while fulfilling their regular duties on campus.

Steube identified eligible personnel as any employee that meets the training requirements, including staff, administration, the principal or teachers.

"The requisite training for the designees is the same training as armed security officers," Steube said.

The bill also provides district superintendents with the ability to designate someone in administration to be armed in the school board building.

Steube and others feel this will provide protection that is currently missing especially in elementary schools across Florida. In Manatee County, recent budget cuts have eliminated school resource officers from most elementary schools.

Reacting to news of the bill, both Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube -- Greg Steube's father -- and Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski, said they would prefer the schools have resource officers or security agents rather than arming school staff.

"I would think most teachers would not want to do our job and I would not want to go into a classroom and be a teacher," Radzilowski said. "It could open up a can of worms."

Sheriff Steube said his overwhelming choice would be to have the school district pay the sheriff's department for 30 additional school resource officers to serve every elementary school.

"But I am sensitive to the fact that the district does not have the money for what it would cost," said Steube, who estimated that the 30 extra officers would cost roughly $3 million.

Sheriff Steube said using security guards would put a gun on campus, but would not create the kind of camaraderie students develop with school resource officers, who often receive tips from students about fights and other sensitive matters.

As for the option of arming school staff, Sheriff Steube expressed concerns. The bill, he said, would have to be more far-reaching, requiring guidelines he considers mandatory beyond initial training, such as requiring staff to attend target practice, be tested regularly and to be physically fit.

"I knew Greg would write something because he called me and we discussed some things," Sheriff Steube said Thursday. "I told him the same things I am telling you. You want a physically fit man or woman who can run from one side of the school to the other. Will the bill stipulate that?

"You want to make it so there is constant training on the part of this person and trips to the gun range for practice," he added. "You want someone to show proficiency shooting at least once a year."

Bill Vogel, who has been filling in for interim superintendent David Gayler, hopes that legislators will propose additional state funding to add resource officers to schools.

"Officers are trained on firearms and know how to address potentially dangerous situations," he said. "They have the complete range of training."

School board chair Karen Carpenter said that the bill, if passed, would burden school staff with responsibilities meant for law enforcement, but she understands Rep. Steube's intent to protect children.

"We recognize that we have to be alert," she said.

School board member Barbara Harvey said if the bill puts resource officers in elementary schools it's wonderful. But the state would have to pay for those officers, she said.

Pat Barber, president of the Manatee Education Association, also thinks there needs to be proper funding for this bill.

"It is great to have resource officers, but it is irresponsible to file a bill without designating a source of spending," Barber said. "They are spreading dollars that are already in short supply, but safety is a huge issue."

Rep. Steube said the funding for resource officers in all schools would come from the general revenue in the state budget.

"The budget allows for a certain amount of school safety dollars, which is put aside to be spent on anything safety related," he said.

"It is up to each school to determine how they would pay for the training, which is a nominal fee," Rep. Steube said.

Harvey said that while she likes the idea of having trained officers in every school, she is not comfortable with staff having firearms in the classroom.

"I consider it inappropriate," Harvey said.

Braden River High School math teacher Tracy Harwood said designating staff is a controversial issue. She said arming teachers could also strain relationships between students and teachers by adding an extra layer of authority, like that of a law enforcement officer.

"It is scary to think about having a gun in my desk," she said. "This feels like the Wild West. Everyone feels the need now to have guns to feel safe."

Cody Pride, a sophomore at Braden River, said how safe he would feel would depend on who the principal would choose to arm.

Braden River High School engineering teacher David Sheppard said he feels safe enough with the armed resource officers that already exist on the high school campuses.

"I have a concealed weapons permit, but I don't feel it is necessary for teachers to have guns on campus," Sheppard said.

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