Bill 1097 gives school principals option to arm staff

7:07 PM, Feb 28, 2013   |    comments
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Sarasota, Florida -- Since the Newtown, Connecticut shooting, school leaders have been looking for ways to make students safer. Florida State Representative Greg Steube, a Republican from District 73 covering Manatee and part of Sarasota County, has an idea that's raising some eyebrows.

State Rep. Steube's bill applies to all public elementary, middle and high schools. Bill 1097 gives principals the option to have one or more staff members carry a concealed weapon in addition to a school resource officer.

"Empowering our teachers and our staff at these school at least giving them an option to defend themselves and the children at that school," says St. Rep. Steube.

Some school officials say this will make students safer, others say it will do the opposite.

Laura Kingsley, principal at Fruitville Elementary said, "I find it to be a terrible idea...a terrible idea!"  Kingsley added, "I believe in a loving and compassionate campus of adults who care about kids having children that close to a weapon that's real fear."

When Fruitville Elementary Principal Dr. Laura Kingsley was asked if there's anyone on her staff who she'd pick to carry a concealed weapon her answer was, "No! No, no I would not feel comfortable."

Kingsley said she grew up around guns. Her father was a firearms expert for the FBI and told her of many gun-related accidents.

She has been Fruitville Elementary's principal for the last 12 years. She trusts her 127 staff members and their safety training. She said her staff locks their doors, are aware of everything going on around their children and report any problems.

Kingsley said she also trusts law enforcement. "That continuous kind of training is the only thing that I would be comfortable with on my campus."

But that kind of protection costs about $100,000 per school resource officer and it's a cost that keeps SRO's out of most elementary schools.

State Representative Greg Steube said his plan gives schools options. "So at least it gives us some tools to use in the tool box to protect our children and our teachers."

Bill 1097 requires the concealed weapons permit holder get nearly 60 hours of training similar to what an armed guard receives and re-certification every couple of years.

"I would feel more secure as a father knowing if I can't be there to protect my son at least somebody can be there with the proper training," Steube said.

Steube said his legislation is reasonable leaving it up to principals to reveal which staff member is armed and where the gun is kept.

"We've created a gun free zone and the bad guys know there is no one on an elementary school campus to react to a situation if someone were to come there with a firearm," explained Steube.

By giving principals the option of arming one or more staff members Steube said a criminal will not know how many people on campus are armed.

Darryl Reyka, the interim director of safety and security for the Sarasota School District, said the district would rather turn to law enforcement for protection. 

"We think law enforcement is the best trained and qualified to have guns on our school campuses and to deal with an active shooter situation," said Reyka. "Our position is we really don't want more guns on our school campuses."

Bill 1097 has a long way to go. A Senate version of the bill is being drafted and then the bill goes to committee before it comes up for a vote. Still, it's an idea that's generating a lot of discussion.

Isabel Mascarenas

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