Floridians could start carrying concealed guns in public schools and in churches if two new bills make their way through the Florida Legislature this year.
On Wednesday, the Florida House Criminal Justice Committee passed HB 621, a proposal which would allow designated individuals to carry firearms on elementary, middle, secondary and postsecondary school campuses.
Under HB 621, School principals or school superintendents would select the designees, who would complete 40 hours of training and four hours of firearm proficiency training from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Teachers, employees and volunteers could all be considered for the position.
Designees would also be required to undergo active shooter training to prepare themselves in case of a life-threatening emergency on public school campuses.
The weapon or firearm must be carried on the designee’s person at all times while the designee is performing his or her official school duties.
Opponents of the measure argued gun violence in schools is usually the result of escalating conflicts in the presence of firearms and expressed concerns about putting guns in Florida schools.
“I know we can all agree that schools should be safe places for our kids to learn. Stories from around the country and an overwhelming body of research both show that putting guns in classrooms is dangerous – full stop,” said Gay Valimont, Volunteer Leader with the Florida Chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
Melissa Franklin, a mother of two, came to Tallahassee to testify against the measure, expressing concerns about an influx of guns around the state.
“The facts show over and over again that more guns make us less safe,” Franklin said.
Rep. Bob Rommel, R-Naples, who sponsored the measure, said the bill aimed to prevent violence by students and let them know they would be “met with resistance” if they carried guns on campus — and asserted HB 621 would make students safer.
“We demand [the schools] to keep our children safe yet we don’t give them tools to keep them safe when evil comes upon the door,” he said.
Members supporting the bill said the legislation would help protect students in potentially deadly situations.
“Do we sit there call 911 and watch helplessly as our friends and loved ones are getting shot to death or do we have something implemented in place that may allow for some counteraction to take place?” Rep. Julio Gonzalez, R-Naples asked.
Some committee members expressed reservations about instilling too much confidence in teachers, who they said can also suffer from mental issues which might make them more violent.
“Just because you’re a teacher doesn’t mean you’re not crazy. There are crazy people in all professions,” said Rep. Ramon Alexander, D-Tallahassee.
The House subcommittee also passed HB 1419, which would allow churches, synagogues or religious institutions to permit concealed firearms on property grounds.
Current Florida law bans churches from having armed security, but recent history suggests churches may not be as safe as many once believed. Last month, a gunman opened fire on the congregation at a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing over 20 people during a morning worship service.
Texas law allows concealed firearms on church grounds.
Bill sponsor Lawrence McClure, R-Dover, said the measure was simply a property rights and safety issue for churchgoers in Florida.
“The vulnerability of our churches is something this bill is seeking to reduce. Nothing more and nothing less,” McClure said.
Other committee members agreed, contending current state law doesn’t provide churches their full rights to defend themselves.
“We trample the liberties of churches by limiting their activities…we also trample on their property rights by keeping them from engaging in whatever protective measures they feel…are appropriate for their congregation,” said Rep. Julio Gonzalez, R-Venice.
HB 621 now heads to the PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee while HB 1419 now heads to the House Judiciary Committee for approval.