Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

As Guns-in-School Bill Advances, Some Uneasy

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

As Guns-in-School Bill Advances, Some Uneasy

Article excerpt

TALLAHASSEE

After the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Connecticut, Rep. Greg Steube decided Florida needed stronger school protection.

That massacre happened in about five minutes. In Manatee and Sarasota counties, it takes six to 11 minutes for law enforcement to respond to a call, he said. Without someone at the school who can react to the crisis, police are often too late.

So Steube, R-Sarasota, is pushing a bill that would allow school boards to designate a trained former or active law enforcement or military member who meets certain requirements to carry a concealed weapon on campuses.

Groups including the Florida Parent Teacher Association and the School Board Association said they are uncomfortable with the proposal.

Despite the training and background checks the bill would require, the risks are too high, Florida PTA Treasurer Janet Lamoureux said at a meeting of the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee, which passed the bill Wednesday.

"PTA doesn't want the exposure of another gun on campus," Lamoureux said.

Instead of arming eligible staff or volunteers, she supported funding more school resource officers. Other committee members also favored that approach.

Sarasota County School Board member Caroline Zucker said she has debated the issue with Steube, and prefers more resource officers to arming teachers or volunteers.

The resource officers know how to interact with the students and develop trust so they will report when they hear someone plans to bring a gun to school, she said.

But putting those law enforcement officers in schools is expensive.

This year, the city of Sarasota budgeted $412,985 for school resource officers in three schools: Brookside Middle, Booker High and Sarasota High.

Resource officers, particularly at big schools, could use backup, Steube said, and local elementary schools are vulnerable. He has spoken at a few Sarasota schools where the entry is through double glass doors.

"I mean, even if those were locked you could just break it with your arm or shoot through it and walk in, and the whole school's at your mercy," Steube said.

Jane Goodwin, another Sarasota County School Board member, cautiously supports the bill. …

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