Arm teachers? Palm Beach County leaders, parents reject Trump’s idea

5:00 p.m Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018 Local
President Donald Trump hosted a listening session with Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivors and others at the White House Wednesday. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Palm Beach County educators, parents and cops rejected President Donald Trump’s call to arm certain teachers to deter school shootings, saying the proposal would make schools more dangerous, not safer.

As Trump tweeted Thursday that mass shooters “will never attack” schools with armed teachers, Sheriff Ric Bradshaw countered that arming teachers “is not going to be the answer.”

Knowing how to use guns in stressful situations requires lengthy training and practice of skills far beyond loading and aiming techniques, he said.

“There’s a big difference between shooting at a target and getting into a gunfight,” Bradshaw said at a news conference Thursday to announce a new cell phone application to let students report suspicious activity. “I don’t think we should put teachers in that position.”

Bradshaw’s comments came after Trump suggested in a town hall meeting Wednesday night that some teachers should be armed to defend campuses against mass shooters. He followed up Thursday morning with tweets expounding on his point.

“Highly trained, gun adept, teachers/coaches would solve the problem instantly, before police arrive,” he wrote in one tweet.

In another tweet he went further, saying that “if a potential ‘sicko shooter’ knows that a school has a large number of very weapons talented teachers (and others) who will be instantly shooting, the sicko will NEVER attack that school.”

But the concept appears to have significant political support in Tallahassee. On Thursday, Senate President Joe Negron said he would be in favor of such a proposal.

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"The concept of having teachers who are trained and have appropriate credentials being able to be armed to protect students, I would support that," he said, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

As a result, the proposal may be included in a series of gun-related measures that state lawmakers are assembling in response to last week’s massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Locally, Bradshaw’s rejection of Trump’s idea was echoed by Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa and Lawrence Leon, chief of the county school district’s police department, who said that guns on school campuses belong in the hands of trained law enforcement officers.

Avossa said that rather than arming teachers, “we need to have a police officer in every school,” and that some schools need more than one.

Currently each of the county’s public middle and high schools has an armed officer assigned to their campus. Elementary schools have no permanent police presence. Instead, school district officers split their time before four or more elementary schools.

Opposition to arming teachers was a common refrain among teachers and parents across the county .

“Any logically thinking person can envision a student intent on causing harm disarming a teacher and using that gun to kill people,” Palm Beach County School Board member Frank Barbieri said. “I support armed, trained law enforcement personnel assigned full-time to every school.”

The National Association of School Resource Officers indicated it opposed Trump’s proposal, saying this week that it “strongly recommends that no firearms be on a school campus except those carried by carefully selected, specially trained school resource officers.”

Some state lawmakers have proposed letting teachers carry guns several times in recent years, always unsuccessfully. 

Arming teachers is rare but not completely unheard of in Florida. In Lakeland, Southeastern University began arming some educators in 2016 as part of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office’s “Sentinel” program, in which the educators receive screenings and training before becoming “special deputies.” 

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd endorsed the idea of arming teachers during an appearance on Fox News Channel this weekend, saying “there has to be a line of defense.”

Supporters of the concept include Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.

Justin Katz, president of the county’s teachers union, said Trump’s proposal is “resoundingly opposed by almost, if not every single teacher and law enforcement organization.”

“If the public wants more guns in schools to protect students, then we need more trained law enforcement officers in schools, plain and simple,” he said.

Among those who rejected the idea: Jason Perry of Wellington, a former Army infantryman and commander whose daughter attends Elbridge Gale Elementary.

“Soldiers spend a lot of time drilling,” he said. “It is a ‘degradable skill set,’ meaning if you don’t continually practice, you lose the skills.”

“Even if this proposal were implemented,” he said, “I don’t see how the training needs to make this idea remotely safe would be satisfied. Let the teachers teach and leave the policing to the police.”

Karen Gilbert, mother of a Palm Beach Gardens Elementary kindergartener, said that the idea of more guns on her child’s campus made her nervous. And she worried about the burden of training teachers sufficiently to handle firearms.

“I just feel like teachers have so much on their plate as it is,” she said. “They don’t need this extra burden placed on them. The training that goes into (getting a concealed-weapons permit) isn’t even the tip of the iceberg of what you’d need to know about an active shooter.”