Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed into law on Friday a $400 million piece of legislation that restricts some gun sales and funds new school security as well as mental health measures. So why did Florida school district superintendents oppose the bill?
The Florida Association of District School Superintendents sent a letter to the governor urging him to veto the legislation (advice he obviously didn’t take) because, they said, it would force districts to arm teachers. Scott, who said he opposes a call by President Trump to arm teachers, had not publicly embraced the legislation when it passed but ultimately decided it was a compromise he could live with.
The letter was signed by the association’s president, Superintendent Robert Runcie of Broward County, site of the Feb. 12 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 people were killed by a 19-year-old gunman. That shooting led to protests that spurred Florida lawmakers — who usually are right in line with the National Rifle Association regarding gun policy — to buck the NRA and pass legislation that takes action the group has opposed.
Some critics of the new law, including some of the survivors of the shooting, have said it doesn’t go far enough with gun-control measures. Critics had sought a ban on assault weapons, but the Florida legislature refused to debate that measure. Critics on the right opposed some of the gun-control measures in the new law.
Runcie said in the letter that the legislation does not provide enough funding for every school to hire a law enforcement officer, known as school resource officers, but spends millions to set up a “marshal” program that will arm some teachers in every school. Because of the funding disparity, school district leaders could be “faced with the untenable decision” to arm teachers even if they don’t want to.
The law raises the minimum age for gun buyers to 21 and mandates a three-day waiting period for all gun purchases. It also bans the sale of bump stocks, which can be added to a semiautomatic rifle to make it fire much faster.
The law provides funding for school districts to train some school staff, including teachers who also work in other capacities (such as a coach), to carry and use a gun. Some districts have also said they oppose arming any teachers. The Miami Herald reported that officials in 10 of Florida’s largest school districts said they won’t train any teachers or staff members to carry guns on campus.
That includes the superintendent in Polk County, where the sheriff’s office has a program to train teachers and others who want to carry guns. In fact, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos mentioned the Polk sheriff’s program during remarks she made this week when she visited Stoneman Douglas, without noting that the superintendent there isn’t interested in it.
Jacqueline Byrd, the superintendent of Polk County Public Schools, made her position clear in a video address that was posted on the district’s Facebook page:
“I want to be very clear on where I stand: This is absolutely not the answer. . . . I will not support or recommend any measure that seeks to arm our teachers or staff. We do not need armed teachers. We need resource officers, mental health counselors and more secure campuses.”