Cerabino: Duck! There’s another Florida-first gun law in the making

March 05, 2018
Illustration by Mark Buzek / The Palm Beach Post

If ever you hear that Florida is about to be the first in the nation to adopt some new gun law, it’s not a reason to celebrate.

When Florida trailblazes on a gun law, it’s a distinction akin to being the first high school girl in the neighborhood to get pregnant.

And so it’s happening again, Florida lawmakers are getting themselves knocked up by their daddies at the NRA, who have managed to persuade them that the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland isn’t a reason to ban the deadly assault weapon that made the carnage so easy, but to introduce more firepower in the schools by arming teachers.

COMPLETE COVERAGE: Parkland school shooting

It’s called the “school marshal program,” and it’s so stupid and unpopular that even our gun-happy Gov. Rick Scott can’t stand his ground on this one with an Election Day looming just eight months away.

The plan imagines that a successful response to an assault by a gunman with an AR-15 roaming the halls of a school and shooting from easily reloaded high-capacity magazines is to equip some teachers with handguns, some training and a one-time $500 bonus to sweeten the pot.

The folly of this doesn’t require much imagination. Let’s look at what happened in Parkland.

Math teacher Jim Gard had released his class after the shooter activated the fire alarm. But once his students heard shots ringing out in the building, they raced back for cover inside the classroom.

By then, Gard and some of the students had already returned to the classroom and had hidden in a corner of the room. Gard, as per instructions in this situation, locked his classroom’s door to the hallway.

“I looked back down the hall and no one was around — no one,” Gard told The Sun-Sentinel. “You have to close the door. That’s protocol. We have no choice.”

But some of his students were still outside, and moments later were pounding on the door to get back inside the classroom. But the teacher didn’t let them in.

Does giving that math teacher a handgun solve this? What does he do?

Emboldened with his $500 bonus, does he unlock the door and venture out into the hallway, leaving his students as he walks toward the rapid blasts of the assault weapon? Or does he crouch in the classroom with his handgun drawn, preparing for a fatal gun duel with the first person to kick open that door (fingers crossed it isn’t the SWAT)?

Note to students: Don’t huddle near the armed teacher.

Deputizing some underpaid, over-worked teachers as armed law-enforcement officers, which is what this legislation would do, is a recipe for unintended consequences. The likelihood of a bloodthirsty mass shooter on campus is slim. But the likelihood of one of the new legion of armed teachers to accidentally fire his or her weapon, lose it or leave it unsecured in the school, or use it inappropriately in a confrontation with a student is far more probable.

More guns would make schools more dangerous and cause parents to demand to know which teachers have the guns so their children could be transferred out of those classes.

The only clear winners here are the NRA’s clients, the gun manufacturers, who will get a new stream of sales.

Oh, and also the NRA’s bought-and-paid-for lawmakers, who will get to earn their future campaign donations.

Florida Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, who said “thoughts and prayers” were still our best defense against school shootings, has a 100 percent “A” rating from the NRA. You can probably guess how she voted over the weekend on an ill-fated attempt by other state legislators to ban the sale of AR-15s.

“If I thought for a moment if we banned assault weapons, all these tragedies would end, you would have me, I would be with you,” Stargel said.

The standard that public safety laws are only valid if “all tragedies would end” is a stringent one, and one that doesn’t seem to apply to legislative action on any other issue in Florida.

For example, in 2005 Florida lawmakers realized that Sudafed was being bought off the shelves for use in home-brewed meth labs. So Florida lawmakers passed legislation that put Sudafed behind the sales counter and restricted how much could be bought.

Meth labs weren’t eliminated. But that was never an argument against doing something to fight that health epidemic.

Guns are a health epidemic in Florida too, and a more deadly one than the abuse of methamphetamine. In 2016, there were 327 Floridians who died from meth abuse while 2,704 died from gunshot wounds.

And now Florida lawmakers have addressed our gun problem by figuring out a way to introduce more of them in the state, and even worse, to put them around children.

Let’s hope this stinker doesn’t pass this week. It’s time to give another state a chance to be the first in the nation to adopt a dangerous gun law.