A state lawmaker's proposal to boost school safety by allowing teachers to carry concealed firearms on campus has sparked mixed opinions in Highlands County.
State Rep. Greg Steube (R-Sarasota) filed HB-1097- School Safety recently, which would allow teachers to carry concealed firearms on campus with prior approval from an administrator.
The proposed bill would require school resource officers at schools that do not have at least one employee designated to carry a concealed weapon.
Highlands School Board Vice Chairman Ronnie Jackson wasn't familiar with the bill, but commented, "I would have very mixed emotions about that."
After thinking about it for a moment, Jackson said, "I don't believe in that. To me that's a little extreme, but that's just me.
"Just allowing teachers to carry guns to school, I think we have a lot more options to do before we get to that."
Highlands County Sheriff Susan Benton hadn't heard of Steube's School Safety bill, but said she had mixed emotions about it, especially from her experience as a school resource officer and supervisor of SROs.
"There are some pretty big, tough kids on high school campuses who could overpower a teacher," she said. Also, there could be issues at the elementary schools if teachers are not clearly trained in the use and responsibility and security of firearms or inadvertently a child could get access to a gun.
The few hours of lessons required to obtain a concealed weapons permit is nowhere near the level of training that should be required of a teacher who carries a firearm on campus, Benton said.
"I am not necessarily opposed to it, but just because you have a little familiarization class on a firearm doesn't mean you know how to use it well and when to use it and know all the legal ramifications that come with it," she said.
Law enforcement officers have upwards of 500 hours of initial training and then retrain constantly in the use of firearms and firearms tactics, and not just shooting at targets, but training with moving scenarios and what ifs, Benton said.
"I would be a little concerned for some of those reasons," she said. "I am not absolutely opposed to the idea, but there would be a lot of questions answered before I would say, 'let's get on the bandwagon for this one.'"
With a kindergartener at Sun 'N Lake Elementary, Barbie Kesling has had ongoing concerns about school security since the Dec. 16 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut.
She has heard a little bit about the proposed teacher gun bill.
"I am not sure how I feel about that," Kesling said. "I am pretty much anti-gun, but with all the school shootings, of course, I want to keep my children safe, but I also work in the EMS field and I have seen a lot of accidents."
She would rather have tighter security at schools than have a teacher with a secured gun, but she also believes it would be safer for a teacher, with gun safety training, to have a firearm at school than to have a gun at home for personal protection, Kesling said.
Comments on Facebook ranged from "great idea" to "horrendous idea," including a few who said they would be concerned about students forcibly taking a gun from a teacher.
Tracy Whitham Mingacci said, "I think it is too extreme. If a teacher was overpowered by a student, then it would put others in jeopardy. That would be a very real possibility with the big children that go to school or if they got ganged up on. We already have police presence in the schools, just arm them."
Sue McCollum said, "Horrendous idea. No way would I as a teacher (or not a teacher) carry a gun."
Carol Mitchell said, "Bad idea. Designated security staff at school should have them. Not teachers. Kids are smart and sneaky. They will end up with the gun or the teacher will shoot a kid for fighting, something crazy."
Dane Ashley Hendry said, "With proper training, good idea."
Kelsey Murray said, "Great idea. You don't find criminals trying to rob people they know that are armed do you? Every shooting we've heard of recently was in a 'gun free' zone.
"Concealed weapons with correct training and proper security to safeguard against accessibility to students is a fantastic idea."