ARMING TEACHERS  IS SAD BUT NECESSARY 

ARMING TEACHERS  IS SAD BUT NECESSARY 

Everybody said something had to be done after the Parkland shooting. A lot of them said arming teachers wasn’t the answer.Almost a year later, the uncomfortable thought of letting teachers carry guns makes more sense by the day The Florida Senate education committee has filed a bill that would do that, which has raised one question with a lot of people: Are the senators totally nuts or just lackeys for the National Rifle Association? The answer is they are realists who have discovered protecting schools is much easier legislated than done.

The state passed sweeping new safety requirements after a gunman killed 17 people at Parkland last Valentine’s Day. One law mandates that an armed guard be stationed at all of the state’s 4,517 public schools. Ideally, that would be a police officer or sheriff’s deputy. Most school districts have a hard time finding the money or manpower to fill those spots.

The next option is the guardian program. Originally, only non-teaching school personnel would be eligible. The foot-dragging is why teachers are now in line to be to be armed. For the bill to pass, lawmakers must shoot down some stubborn misconceptions. “I was hired to teach, not carry a gun!” I was hired to write mediocre columns, not play cop. But if somebody came into the newsroom firing an AR-15, I’d hope one of my colleagues had a gun. And the school guardian program is voluntary. Nobody can force a teacher to arm up. “Armed teachers will be modern day Keystone Kops.”

Applicants undergo at least 132 hours of training in gun safety, tactical shooting, shoot/no-shoot, live-fire drills. That’s more training than most police academies require, and it’s 100-plus hours more than it takes to become an armed security guard in Florida. “But we’re not talking guarding a bank or mall. Children are our most precious resource.” Agreed. I have two in public school and I’d like to have SEAL Team 6 stationed at their schools. But at some point practical considerations must enter in.

I think that every day when I see the Orange County Sheriff’s deputy at my fifth-grader’s school. He watches kids dropped off in the morning. He watches them get picked up in the afternoon. In between, he stands around a lot trying not to look bored out of his mind. I’m not making fun of him. That is his job. The Orange County Sheriff’s Office was supposed to hire 75 new officers for school duty, and it was going to cost $11.2 million. More than halfway through the school year it’s still 21 officers short.

The Orange County School Board has shunned the guardian program, which is not unusual. Only 24 of 67 school districts are participating in it. Lake and Volusia counties are the only ones in Central Florida. The early feedback has been positive, which also is not unusual. At least 14 other statesallow teachers to be armed and the reviews are generally good. Many law enforcement departments aren’t persuaded, including Orange County’s. But if the overall goal is to make kids safer, I can’t help wondering if 75 new officers might be more useful chasing thieves, pedophiles, drug dealers and wife-beaters than monitoring school lunchrooms. The answer seems obvious until one of those kids shows up with a rifle.

But considering the number of schools in America (about 100,000) and the number of days they’re in business (about 180 per year), the odds of that happening at a particular school are infinitesimally small. Contrary to conventional wisdom, studies show that schools are actually less violent and safer than they were 25 years ago. But in the era of social media and CNN Town Halls, school shootings now get magnified to where kids routinely worry whether they’re going to be shot at recess. Such dread makes parents think teachers have no business guarding schools. Bob Gualtieri felt the same way a year ago. He’s the Pinellas County Sheriff who was put in charge of the investigation into the Parkland shooting. As the commission put together its 458-page report, Gualtieri changed his mind about arming teachers.

A lot of times, they are the only ones in position to confront a shooter.

“We know from the history of these things that the majority are stopped by school personnel,” Gualtieri told the Associated Press. “People need to keep an open mind to it, as the reality is that if someone else in that school had a gun it could have saved kids’ lives.”

There actually was a cop with a gun at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High, of course. He decided to cower outside as students and faculty were mowed down. What would a teacher on the inside have given to have a gun? The skeptics are right about one thing. Arming teachers is not the answer. There is no single remedy to school shootings, and programs have been set up to better identify potential shooters and harden schools. But arming a teacher who is proficient in using a firearm should be part of the answer. As uncomfortable as that thought is, I’ll take it over the pain 17 families will be feeling this Valentine’s Day. David Whitley is a member of our Community Conversations Team. He can be reached at dwhitley@orlandosentinel.com