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 Bay District Schools Superintendent Bill Husfelt, who is in favor.
Florida's new measure making teachers eligible to carry guns in school has sparked debate and controversy. The bill, signed into law by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this month, follows the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, more than a year ago, which left 17 students and teachers dead.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas teacher Greg Pittman remembers he was in the middle of his fourth-period history class on the afternoon of Feb. 14 when the fire alarm went off for the second time that day.
"Normally at that time of day it would not be just a regular drill. And so we were waiting for someone to come on over the PA to say either the culinary department had burned something, or the electrical system was being worked on and they inadvertently set off the fire alarm," he says. "And no one came on."
A gun owner himself, Pittman says he does not support the state's new law, which extends its so-called "guardian" program. Even with the required training hours and background checks the law mandates, he says he does not feel equipped to take on a role typically left to law enforcement — nor does he want to.
"We've not gone back to the root of the problem, and the root of this entire problem is it's too easy in this country for people to get rapid-fire weapons for no reasonable purpose," Pittman says. "We need to have these type [of] weapons banned."
On realizing the fire alarm was not for a drill, and evacuating his students on the day of the shooting
"I'm looking at the kids, and it's like, 'All right, grab your phones guys, we gotta get out of here.' I'm about 400 feet from the 1200 building [where the shooting took place] — I actually taught in that building the first nine years it was open and moved to this room about a year before, so fortunately I was here and not there with my students. And so we proceed to go out, and as we're going down and going out another teacher ran up and told me that there was an actual shooting going on.
"Then the next thing you know, a student showed me a photo of another student on the floor in a classroom all bloodied, and so we were quite aware all of a sudden that this was real and this was occurring. I guess the teacher mode certainly kicked in then, and we realized we needed to move these kids off campus. And so everything kicked in from there.
"I do own a gun, and I would not want the gun on campus. I have not had the training nor the experience to fall into the role of someone that's a sheriff, a police officer, SWAT. I don't want that responsibility."Greg Pittman
"The biggest thing that I remember that day, one was yelling at the kids, because ... a gate unfortunately would not open, and we needed to go file around one by one between a canal on one side, a fence on the other, to move the kids out. A lot of them are trying to climb this fence, which, some were getting stuck in the fence, and I remember yelling at the top of my lungs not to climb the fence, because I was also worried about them getting cut in the fence, and you could see panic in their faces. And so we obviously as teachers, we're concerned, we're just getting them safely off campus and moving them. And then just the constant noise from the sirens, from all the police, sheriff's vehicles and all the helicopters in the air. As far as sounds, those are the sounds that I don't think I'll ever forget. Anytime I hear the sirens or the helicopter sounds, it kind of takes me back to that day, as certain sounds tend to take us all back to that day."
On whether having his gun with him that day would have changed anything
"No, it would not have changed the situation for me. I do own a gun, and I would not want the gun on campus. I have not had the training nor the experience to fall into the role of someone that's a sheriff, a police officer, SWAT. I don't want that responsibility. We had a sheriff's officer who had been at the school — I'm not sure how many years he'd been here, but he'd been a Broward County deputy for 33 years — and he could not and did not maneuver or position himself or use his gun properly, and he'd been trained to do that. If the officer with 33 years of training was not able to use his gun properly, how are we or others — with a minimum of 144 hours of training — are we supposed to be able to use it? How are we supposed to be able to identify who a shooter would be? What if it was someone else trying to come in our room?"
On his response to educators like Bay District Schools Superintendent Bill Husfelt, who is in favor of the law
"He's from, one, a more rural county versus an urban — we're from a significantly different metropolitan area that looks at things quite differently than the Panhandle does. If our sheriff's deputy that was on campus, that did have a gun, was able to have responded properly because he was outside the hallway that would have entered the building to go in, if he had gone in and challenged the shooter, things would have been quite different. But he did not do that. So I'm supposed to, for a $400, $500 stipend, and with 144 hours of training, supposed to be able to do it — with no way to communicate to whoever else I need to be communicating with for other law enforcement? I'm supposed to be the one to take on this, and be the nurse, and be the doctor, and be the psychiatrist, and the psychologist, and the mother, and the father and everything else to the children, and they don't want to pay us to be teachers? So I would say that the responsibility falls upon our elected leaders to provide the funding, to provide the people that are trained to use the guns on our campuses if that's the solution that we need."
On whether he feels any safer today at Marjory Stoneman Douglas
"You want me to tell you the truth? Truthfully I do not. There has been a lot of additional security, a lot of additional steps, additional fencing, whatever. But if somebody really wants to get a gun into a school, that's not difficult to do. And many schools have limited, if any, fencing. I do feel safer. But do I feel safe? Do I feel that I could never be shot at? No, I do not. That's just completely false."
On how the school is coping since the shooting
"A lot of people are having a lot of trouble. I know this year we're going to lose a lot of teachers, a lot of teachers are not coming back. Last year we only had a couple that went to other schools. Everybody came back. This year, I know a lot of teachers have put in for transfers. I know a number of students have left. The students have a lot of problems — so do the teachers — anytime we hear a loud noise, a loud sound.
"Another classroom two doors down the hall from me a couple weeks ago had a palmetto bug — which is similar to a cockroach, except they're large and they fly. It was flying in a room and the kids were screaming because they're afraid of this bug, which is really silly. But the classroom next door actually had to have one of the therapists come in and help them because they were so upset from the screaming that they heard from the adjacent classroom. Anytime a book is dropped, anytime there's a loud noise, everybody is very unsettled by any little sound, noise, whatever. Most if not all the teachers are seeking help, many of the students are and we have a full-time set of counselors that are here all the time just for this."
This segment aired on May 29, 2019.