School security. People agree it’s important, but that’s about the only common ground. When it comes to the question of how, the gun control folks are at odds with the NRA-supported idea of having armed teachers. Bob Gualtieri, the sheriff of Pinellas County in Florida, used to be a person who was in the middle. He thought having armed officers on campus was a good idea, but wasn’t gung-ho about the prospect of armed teachers.
Recently, though, Gualtieri changed his mind. And the big thing that altered his opinion was the investigation into the Valentine’s Day school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Fla. One particular aspect of that tragic shooting—where a madman armed with an AR-15 modern sporting rifle, was spraying bullets with wanton disregard for life on students and teachers—was the crux for the change in thinking. The gunman, Nikolas Cruz, apparently reloaded his rifle five times while a school resource officer was impotently waiting outside the killing zone. And that is exactly the kind of case wherein an armed teacher or other staff member could have stepped up to end the carnage earlier.
“We know from the history of these things that the majority are stopped by school personnel,” Gualtieri said in an Associated Press report. “People need to keep an open mind to it [arming teachers], as the reality is that is someone else in that school had a gun, it could have saved kids’ lives.”
School resource officers (SROs) were one of the solutions proposed years ago, and there is no doubt that the presence of sworn law officers can provide a measure of security. But SROs aren’t a be-all, end-all answer for several reasons, one of which was illustrated during the Parkland shooting and another of which is that the cost can be a hurdle.
Even so, most schools have only one SRO on duty and if the officer isn’t in the right place at the right time, well, resources can be spread a little thin. That’s why Gualtieri has had a change of heart. Imagine if one teacher per building carried. (Of course, this wouldn’t be random arming; the teachers should be able to demonstrate some level of competency with a firearm. “Those that want to go through a rigorous selection process,” he said. “Those who want to volunteer for it, those who have the courage to do it, the willingness to do it — why would we not give them the opportunity?”) That would provide much broader coverage should an active-shooter incident ever occur.
Gualtieri’s opinion might end up carrying some weight in Florida, and well it should. As the leader of the task force reviewing the Stoneman Douglas shooting, he is now in a position to advocate for more discussion of whether the state should allow and/or encourage school districts to have armed teachers.
“What I’m saying is let’s not make this an ideological decision, let’s look at the facts and the evidence,’’ Gualtieri told a reporter with the Tampa Bay Times. The task force to submit its final recommendations in a report that is due to be given to state leaders Jan. 1, 2019.
Although we have yet to see how state officials will respond should the task force suggest opening the door to the prospect of arming teachers, the editorial board of at least one newspaper is behind the notion.
The Ledger editorial writers commended Gualtieri for being open to changing his mind. Now that he has, perhaps Florida can take a more proactive role in school safety.
“Perhaps now, Gualtieri can become the teacher and instruct critics of arming teachers as to what he learned from his personal inquiry into why things happened as they did at Douglas High,” the editorial said “Unlike the leaders of their unions and those administrators who aren’t in the schools every day, many teachers may prefer to have a fighting chance instead of being a sitting duck.”
The editors there got to the heart of the matter. Now let’s home the same idea can get into the minds of the decision-makers.