Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri wants to clear the air.
Yes, he testified in Tallahassee before the House Appropriations Committee in support of the Marshal plan, a controversial proposal that calls for arming teachers in schools (if approved by district superintendents or school boards).
However, the Gualtieri admitted Tuesday that he doesn’t advocate arming schoolteachers, but it’s can be an important backup if legislation fails to ensure every public school in the state has an armed presence.
“I’m not necessarily a fan of the concept,” he told reporters following Gov. Rick Scott‘s news conference at the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s office. What he is a fan of is doing “everything we can” to ensure an experienced, well-trained law enforcement officer equipped with a weapon is in every elementary, middle and high school in the state.
“Now, if that doesn’t work for some reason, then the authorization (for arming teachers) should be there,” he said, adding that he does not support the Marshal Program, but does support its authorization “in case we need it.”
Gualtieri is most passionate about passing legislation to ensure somebody who has been institutionalized by the Baker Act would actually have their firearms taken away for a short period of time when they could be a danger to themselves or others.
According to state law, individuals “Baker acted” are prohibited from purchasing firearms, but those who voluntarily commit themselves and stay willingly can obtain guns.
In addition, if a doctor determines “dangerousness” is not imminent, Florida laws says that person can buy guns.
“Under the current Baker Act in Florida, because they have mental health issues and they are a credible threat to somebody else, then they need to leave that gun in their house and in their possession, and then they get out a few hours later and they go right back to that gun,” Gualtieri explained.
“That’s a dangerous situation. It’s wrong and it needs to be corrected, and law enforcement needs to do whatever it takes to store those weapons and … and provide adequate due process and protect those individuals rights, but at the same time, the number one priority is getting those guns off the streets.”
Florida sheriffs are faced with a dilemma when confronted with such situations, Gualtieri said. Do they allow someone clearly mentally troubled to keep a firearm and pose a threat to public safety? Or do they take the gun away and violate the current law?
“It’s not a good place for sheriffs or police chiefs to be,” he said. “It’s making a decision. Neither one is good. One, you don’t have legal authority to do it. Two, you don’t want somebody getting killed. That’s why it’s very important for the Legislature to act.”
Like Scott, Gualtieri is right now not in favor of banning assault-type of weapons or dealing with high-capacity magazines. He said mentally unbalanced people will find a way to kill people, and says they don’t need a gun to do so.
“It’s not one modality,” he said, adding “there’s a whole bunch of things that create mass destruction.”
“The gun was what wreaked havoc. It’s a people problem. We don’t have an effective case management system. We don’t have effective discharge planning. Until we get our arms around filling those voids, it’s focusing on one instrument.
“Anybody who thinks otherwise is misguided. It’s a people problem.”