TALLAHASSEE -- A controversial bill that would allow schools employees to carry weapons on campus won the support of a House education subcommittee on Wednesday.
If the proposal were to become law, principals and superintendents could designate school employees to carry concealed weapons. The employees would have to undergo extensive training, said Rep. Greg Steube, the Sarasota Republican sponsor of the bill.
Steube amended the proposal slightly before Wednesday's meeting; it now requires the firearm to remain on the employee throughout the school day. Steube also expanded the proposal so that it applies to both public and private schools.
"I've been getting feedback from principals all over the state about how strongly they support an initiative like this," Steube said.
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But the bill has met resistance from parents, school boards and the teachers' union, who adamantly oppose the idea of guns on school property.
Florida School Boards Association Executive Director Wayne Blanton said the law would place a "huge" liability on school systems.
"Our teachers and principals are role models. You are going to send the wrong message to these students," he added.
The bill has also been met with skepticism from Steube's father, Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube, and Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski, who have 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 recently told the Herald. "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.
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.
"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."
Still, most members of the subcommittee supported the proposal.
"In our overwhelming desire to keep our children safe in gun-free zones, we have inadvertently made them the ideal sterile target for a madman," said Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala. "Evil is real. It's in the world. It will happen again. Is anybody going to be prepared?"
Rep. Elizabeth Porter, R-Lake City, said she, too, "embraced" the bill.
"I would hope that if a madman were to walk on a campus where my children were and his goal was to die and to take as many children [as possible] with him, there would be somebody there to stop that man from murdering my children, and that somebody would take him out before he could do that," she said.
A trio of Democratic committee members opposed the proposal: Reps.Randolph Bracy, Gwyndolen Clarke-Reed and Richard Stark.
"Personally I am against guns," Clarke-Reed said. "I don't like them. I don't even like to see them."
Bracy expressed concerns about possible "unintended consequences."
But the three were unable to muster enough support to defeat the proposal. It passed with the support of the committee's eight Republicans, and Democratic Reps. Karen Castor Dentel (a teacher) and Carl F. Zimmermann.
Steube hopes the bill continues to move. "Most counties do not have the funds to put a school resource officer in every elementary school," he said.