The Florida Legislature, the Media and Teachers Carrying Guns

By BRAD SLAGER for Sunshine State News

Leaders in the Florida Senate voted 22-17 last week to expand gun legislation, saying “yes” to a bill that would permit teachers in Florida schools to carry guns on campus. The bill has wide support in the House, too — and in the Governor’s Office, where Ron DeSantis is anxious to sign it.

What a turnaround from a year ago.

In 2018, swept up in post-Parkland emotion, guns and pro-gun bills were nearly as toxic as a cup of Jim Jones’ Kool-Aid.

After the shooting that took 17 lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day 2018, the ensuing months were a blur of media-fueled, anti-gun activism. Students were looked at as the perfect mouthpieces for media narratives, and were given every opportunity to display their views. Being young, and recently enduring an unimaginable calamity, the kids were deemed unassailable, and the networks especially granted them full access to their airwaves. Being above criticism meant anti-gun views ruled the months following the shooting, demonized opponents, even brought down once-powerful politicians.

In 2018 the bills Gov. Rick Scott signed into law banned gun stocks, expanded background requirements, and raised the age for purchasing select weapons to 21. At the same time, legislators denied a bill to arm educators in schools. It was widely regarded as a heinous and foolhardy idea. 

Now, one year later, the current Legislature has “done a 180” on expanding gun rights. The Senate bill passed last week would grant permission to teachers to carry in the classroom on a volunteer basis. Those who vocally oppose the plan overlook the substance of the bill: Teachers looking to carry a weapon would have to complete a minimum amount of training hours, pass a psychological check and be approved by law enforcement officials. And their ability to carry a gun would apply only to those school districts that approve the law for their schools.

The media, meanwhile, are doing their part to boost the side they support — virtually all of them against the bill. Whether it was The Miami Herald, or the Tampa Bay Times, they used the fallback “Gunshine State” moniker, while being sure to include the concerns of the families from the Parkland area who have been vocal activists for the past year. Keeping with the hyperbolic theme, Yahoo News elected to bastardize the bill in its headline, implying that carrying a gun would become requisite for new teaching recruits.

CNN gave student survivor Alfonso Calderon time and a platform to vent in extreme fashion on how teachers are not meant to wear Kevlar vests or carry AR-15s. The lowest “protest,” however, may have come from Newsweek. As unsurprising as it may be that the news outlet sought out reactionary voices from the anti-gun lobby, in rather reckless fashion the magazine was quoting Amy Donofrio of the Evac Movement. The activist-hysteric commented on the Senate vote as somehow targeting minority students. “Today Florida didn’t just pass a bill to arm teachers, we signed death certificates for kids of color.”

What these reactionaries — and, most troubling, the media — choose to ignore is that the concept of armed teachers in classrooms was something recommended as part of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission’s 446-page report, issued last November. The panel was a bipartisan collection of 15 members made up of law enforcement, education and mental health professionals from around the state, and fathers of two of the victims from the shooting. 

Listed among a number of school safety measures that should be enacted was that having armed teachers could negate some of the lag time between a possible fatal event and the arrival of law enforcement. Astonishing that this recommendation would receive so little notice and merit so little mention in the press, whose reporters and editors have been so laser-focused on the issue for the last year.

Brad Slager, a Fort Lauderdale freelance writer, wrote this story exclusively for Sunshine State News. He writes on politics and the entertainment industry and his stories appear in such publications as RedState and The Federalist.