A bill to arm teachers and school employees is zipping through the Florida Legislature, much to the delight of the National Rifle Association and to the dismay of various parent and teacher groups.
The bill, SB 968, sponsored by Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, would allow military veterans or retired police officers with concealed weapons and special training to bring guns to Floridas schools. Principals or school officials would appoint those meeting the requirements as designees to carry guns on campus.
On Monday, the legislation passed through the Senate Criminal Justice Committee by a 5-2 vote.
SB 968 is reminiscent of a proposal from the NRA following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 -- an incident, Hays said, the bill would attempt to prevent.
Part of our tactics here is to not let those perpetrators of evil, for them to think theres no weapons at a school so I can go in there and not have any resistance, said Hays.
Hays bill hasnt come without backlash. Groups of parents, teachers and school officials from across the Sunshine State have spoken out against the proposal.
Florida School Board Association Executive Director Wayne Blanton doesnt think its necessary to have teachers or volunteers toting firearms around schools.
Uniformed, trained police officers in every school Thats what we really need, Blanton said. We do not need teachers, or in this case, volunteers, in our schools carrying weapons. Our teachers and our principals are role models for impressionable young people. If our teachers and our principals and our coaches carry weapons, why won't our kids?
The legislation is one of several gun bills making its way through the Florida Legislature this session. One bill would grant immunity for those firing warning shots and another wouldallow tax collectors to accept applications for concealed-weapons permits.
Floridas pro-gun laws have come under fire in recent months, however. Over the summer, student groups actively protested the states Stand Your Ground laws, camping out at the Florida Capitol for a month, vowing not to leave until the law was repealed.
Now that state lawmakers are back in Tallahassee, so are the protesters. On Monday the Rev. Al Sharpton and several hundred people gathered in front of the Capitol, speaking out against Floridas Stand Your Ground law. Sharpton said the protest marked the beginning of a spring and summer offensive at the Capitol.
"We can't talk about making guns more available, said Sharpton. We ought to be talking about making them less available.
Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen atAllison@sunshinestatenews.comor follow her on Twitter at @AllisonNielsen.