Bill would let Florida schools arm staff members

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SARASOTA, Fla. - The shootings that killed 20 children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School happened two months and two weeks ago. Efforts to protect Florida schools from similar violence began almost immediately.

"I kept having thoughts in my head," says Laura Kingsley, Ph.D. principal at Fruitville Elementary School in Sarasota. "How do I make my little world a little safer?"

State Rep. Greg Steube (R-Sarasota) believes he has an answer. HB 1097 would let school principals like Laura Kingsley to choose a staff member who would carry a gun on campus. Steube says that the person designated would have to go through the same training as a security guard, at the staff member's or the school's expense. "As a father and a son of a teacher, I feel a responsibility to my community and my state to address the safety of our students and teaching personnel," Steube says. "With this bill, schools will be better equipped to protect their faculty and students."

Steube says he noticed that while Florida high schools have school resource officers hired from local sheriff's offices or police departments, many elementary schools do not. His bill would allow them to hire resource officers instead of arming a staff member.

"I love having school resource officers," Kingsley says. "I know that budgets are tight and we do what we can."

If the aim of the bill is to save money that schools don't have to pay professionals, it might not work. "To train a school administrator or a custodian or somebody like that to carry a firearm is not cost effective," says Eddie Maciejczyk, a private investigator and bodyguard, who believes legislators might not have considered all the potential consequences if a staff member fires a gun on school grounds.

Kingsley grew up with guns. Her father worked as a firearms expert for the FBI. She believes that the carrying the burden of carrying a firearm on a school campus should not fall on a school principal or a member of her staff. "I think it's a terrible idea," she says. "I would be fearful all day long, every day, that that person might accidentally, God forbid, hurt a child."