Bradenton state Rep. Steube's school gun bill passes House

toconnor@bradenton.comApril 29, 2014 

Greg Steube TIFFANY TOMPKINS-CONDIE/ttompkins@bradenton.com

TIFFANY TOMPKINS-CONDIE

A bill that would allow arming designated school employees still has a shot at becoming law.

The Florida House OK'd a bill Monday filed by Republican state Rep. Greg Steube of Bradenton to allow schools to develop their own individualized programs to arm designated employees on campus.

Steube first proposed the bill last session in early 2013 just weeks after a gunmen killed 20 students and six staff members at Sandy Hook (Connecticut) Elementary School. He applauded the 71-44 House vote for sending the right message.

"It shows the Florida House supports ensuring our children are safe in our schools and allowing school boards to take advantage of this statute if they feel it's necessary," Steube said.

The proposal is still stalled in a Senate committee, which is where it ended up last year, too.

"It's still alive," Steube said. "It still could be brought up on the Senate floor."

The bill (Senate Bill 968/House Bill 753) would let school leaders designate trained employees to carry concealed weapons on campus. The employees would have to hold a concealed weapons license and have military or law enforcement experience.

Steube said the bill has support from the Florida Association of School Administrators, Florida Sheriffs Association and Florida School Board Association as well as from many Manatee County School Board members, parents, teachers and administrators.

But support is not unanimous.

"I don't think it's a good idea," said Bradenton Police Chief Mike Radzilowski. "If you want somebody with a gun protecting schools, let's put a school resource officer in every school. It's only money that's stopping us. If kids are the most important things in our lives, then let's spend the money and put a resource officer in every school."

Manatee County School District Superintendent Rick Mills said he is opposed to Steube's concept, too.

"I don't have much to say other than I don't support teachers carrying handguns," Mills said. "I don't support the bill. I have too many concerns about possible incidences around having guns in the school."

"(Putting) guns in the hands of school personnel is not the answer to ensuring the safety of all children," said Mindy Gould, who oversees legislative affairs for the state PTA.

Steube expressed frustration his bill is being misinterpreted by opponents.

"Never in any part of this legislation does it say teachers would be armed," he said. "It says employees and it doesn't have to be a teacher."

With no school resource police officers now posted at any Manatee County elementary school, Steube said his bill could be a lifesaver.

"The facts are clear. These incidents occur in less than 15 minutes," he said. "Sandy Hook occurred in less than 5 minutes. There's no law enforcement response anywhere there that can respond to an armed incident in that time."

Miami Coral Park Senior High social studies teacher Valerie Petersen said armed employees did not stop the recent Fort Hood shootings.

"From personal experience, I would feel less safe in a school where guns are present," Petersen said.

State Rep. Ronald Renuart, R-Ponte Vedra Beach, said Steube's bill presents a logical solution to the problem.

"We cannot afford to have resource officers in every school full time," Renuart said. "Yet, we have very willing veterans who have been well trained who can help us in this situation."

This article includes comments from the Public Insight Network, an online community of people who have agreed to share their opinions with the Miami Herald and WLRN.

Terry O'Connor, metro editor, can be reached at toconnor@bradenton.com.

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