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Tensions boil over as ‘armed teacher’ row roils House

“Students wouldn’t know if a teacher was carrying.”

On Tuesday, tensions flared as the Florida House considered the merits of a bill that would allow teachers to carry concealed weapons in classrooms.

The measure, on the Special Order calendar, was not up for a vote Tuesday.

Still, Democrats decried a process where their concerns were not accommodated, while Republicans voted down one amendment after another.

Long before the amendments were exhausted, the patience of the legislators was snuffed.

As the amendment process slogged on, details emerged on an incident in Pasco County, where a gun held by a school resource officer discharged in a cafeteria.

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Against the backdrop of that cautionary tale, discussion ensued about expanding guns in schools.

And later in the evening, there was news of a college campus shooting at University of North Carolina-Charlotte in which two people were killed, and three were taken to hospital in critical condition.

Sprawling over hours Tuesday afternoon, the questions and amendment process descended into emotional outbursts, a reflection of the heated issue and the lopsided power dynamic in the House.

Though House sponsor Jennifer Mae Sullivan said that the bill did not do such expressly, SB 7030, a bill resulting from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, has come to be defined by its proposal to allow sheriff-trained “teacher-guardian” instructors to carry guns.

This was an original proposal of the post-Parkland panel. While it didn’t make it into 2018 legislation, which opted for school resource officers, it’s back for what Senate President Bill Galvano called the “2.0” version.

The questions suggested a vote later in the week that will hew to party lines, with sharp divisions almost exclusively on whether a teacher should have a loaded gun in a classroom.

The Senate passed that measure last week, largely along party lines. In that debate, Democrats who voted against the bill noted favorably other aspects of the legislation, such as school hardening.

But allowing teachers to pack heat was a bridge too far for them. House Democrats had their objections, but to no avail. Most of their amendments were turfed.

Rep. Cindy Polo‘s amendment to repeal the school guardian program outright likewise did not make the cut. Neither did her amendment to require teachers not to have bullets in their guns.

“It’s so upsetting to see the red and the green,” Polo said, just before that amendment was squelched, hours into “questions” and “amendments” that led to zero substantive changes to the legislation, a conclusion preordained.

“These amendments weren’t intended to be a nuisance to you guys,” Polo said. “The least you can give us is a few hours.”

Sullivan, exasperated, noted that most of the amendments brought up did not surface during the committee process.

Republican Rep. Toby Overdorf and Thad Altman each questioned the good faith of the amendments. Altman said some amendments were “duplicitous,” while Overdorf charged the Democrats with saying teachers were “racist … druggies” who couldn’t handle the pressure of concealed carry and delivering pedagogy.

“Not once did I say anyone in this House was a racist,” thundered Rep. Shev Jones after his amendment requiring “implicit bias training” was headed to a loss.

“Don’t call me a racist. I never said it,” Jones said.

“You can look at me crazy … don’t call me a racist [for] fighting for the people I represent,” Jones yelled. “We’re talking about black boys and girls.”

“Yes, you might have some good teachers, but damn, you have some bad ones too,” Jones said.

Democratic Rep. Susan Valdes was sobbing as she introduced an amendment she said she knew was doomed: “A simple amendment, I know it’s not going to go anywhere.”

The simple ask: For panic buttons in classrooms.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for over two decades, with bylines in national and local publications alike on subjects ranging from pop music to national and global politics. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014, and has held a column in Jacksonville, Florida's Folio Weekly for two decades. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." Gancarski is a frequent presence on Jacksonville television and radio, including fill-in slots on WJCT-FM's award-winning talk show "First Coast Connect." He can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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