Arming Teachers Will Improve Response To School Shootings, Florida Superintendent Says

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Suzanne Devine Clark visits a memorial setup at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for those killed during the mass shooting in Parkland, Fla. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Suzanne Devine Clark visits a memorial setup at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for those killed during the mass shooting in Parkland, Fla. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

We're taking a closer look at Florida's new law allowing classroom teachers to be armed, hearing from one person in favor and one person opposed. Here's our conversation with Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School teacher Greg Pittman, who is opposed.

The governor of Florida has signed legislation that will allow teachers to carry guns in school, more than a year after the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Gov. Ron DeSantis says the change will make people "safer."

School districts must approve the plans, and teachers who want to carry weapons will have to go through a background check and training. But there are concerns that allowing teachers to carry guns could lead to more violence, not less.

Bill Husfelt, superintendent of Bay District Schools in the Florida Panhandle, supports the new law and says training teachers how to handle a firearm is one of the few viable options available for protecting students in the event of a shooting.

"What we learned from Parkland was ... someone like [the shooter] that wants to do harm is gonna do it in a three- to four-minute time span," Husfelt (@BDS_Supt) tells Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson. "And even if you have an armed law enforcement officer in every school — which we do in every school, even elementary schools — the response time just leaves a crazed shooter enough time to do terrible things."

Husfelt's district began implementing Florida's so-called "guardian" program last year, with eligible school staff like administrators, coaches and ROTC instructors undergoing the necessary training, he says. While Husfelt says he understands skepticism and concern about arming teachers, he says those who are willing to protect students ought to be fully trained to do so.

"There's no doubt in my mind that most of our teachers would stand in front of a crazed gunman and take a bullet for our students," he says. "But I just feel like ... we have got to trust some of these teachers that would do that to protect our students as well, and give them a fighting chance — God forbid we have a situation like that."

Interview Highlights

On the American Federation of Teachers not supporting this law, and whether he's heard from teachers about the change

"We have a great relationship with our teachers union here. The president of the union is not for this. Her and I have had great conversations about it, and ironically, she's a former Marine. But she just does not believe it needs to be done and I respect her and she respects our choice. The challenge is for people to understand what happened at Parkland, to delve into the situation, how that all played out and what was done step by step and what you can do to protect your children. Ironically right now, one of the things we're training all of our employees [on] starting now is Stop the Bleed. We're working on that. So we're going to train our teachers to be doctors and nurses, God forbid a student gets shot. But we don't want to give them any way to protect themselves from getting shot. And so this is just part of that process.

"I'm not a crazed gun person. But I do know that specifically what happened at Parkland can happen anywhere."

Bill Husfelt

"I know not everyone agrees with it, I completely understand that. And I'm not one of those that's got a bumper sticker on my truck that says 'insured by Smith and Wesson.' I'm not a crazed gun person. But I do know that specifically what happened at Parkland can happen anywhere, and the response time of law enforcement to get there to protect our children and our teachers just is extremely limited."

On concerns this could lead to minority students being wrongfully shot, and calls for teachers to receive racial bias training

"That's part of the training. The racial bias is part of the required training just exactly for that reason. And I will tell you this, a large segment of our population is minority, different ethnic groups, and a large segment of our teacher population is minority. We do understand the complications in that, and we all try to improve our individual outlook on that, and the process whereby each person is equal and understanding that. Again, we're just not giving a gun to a teacher that we have any doubts or worries about that might not be thinking fully. We are going through an extensive process to vet these people and then to train them."

On guarding against unintended consequences, like a student getting a hold of a teacher's firearm

"I think that happens even with police officers in their homes, and mom and dads that have guns in their homes. I think that that is always a tragic possibility. I would believe that that would be less of a possibility than right now an armed gunman coming into a school campus. I still believe schools are the safest place to be. But I'm not totally blind to the fact that accidents can't happen anywhere. But that's part of the training also, is the maintenance of those weapons and how to deal with it and how to take care of it. So I believe that we're trying to answer ... the accidents, the bad decisions.

"I've been to the training and watched those trainings. They go through very rigorous trainings like police officers do. I even saw them on the range practicing where they had to come around the corner and there was a gunman holding a hostage in front of them where the person being trained had to decide whether to shoot or not shoot. Those kind of things are discussed, and they're part of the training, they're part of the whole process. We hope we never get to it. I mean, no one ever wants to deal with something like this. But in the real world we live in now — I think there's a school shooting almost every week somewhere."

Jill Ryan produced this interview and edited it for broadcast with Kathleen McKenna. Jack Mitchell adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on May 28, 2019.

This segment aired on May 28, 2019.


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Jeremy Hobson Former Co-Host, Here & Now
Before coming to WBUR to co-host Here & Now, Jeremy Hobson hosted the Marketplace Morning Report, a daily business news program with an audience of more than six million.



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