Fla. governor urged to block plan to arm teachers

By Brendan Farrington Associated Press 

TALLAHASSEE — The statewide federation of Florida teachers unions urged Governor Rick Scott on Thursday to veto $67 million that the Legislature has set aside for a contentious program that would allow the training and arming of some public school employees.

The Florida Education Association said in a letter to Scott that only law enforcement officers should have guns in schools.


The letter came a day after the state Legislature narrowly approved a sweeping gun and school safety bill, filed in response to the Parkland high school massacre that killed 17 people.

‘‘If guns are the appropriate answer, then we owe it to our children to provide appropriate numbers of professional, trained law enforcement personnel . . . whose work assignment is to protect students and staff,’’ federation president Joanne McCall said.

Scott has said he is against arming teachers but legislators approved the program anyway. Under Florida law, the governor can sign the overall bill but use his line-item veto to eliminate the money set aside for arming school staff members.

The gun-control bill that cleared the Legislature on Wednesday includes several provisions that challenge the National Rifle Association but falls short of what the Republican governor and survivors of the massacre demanded.

Scott, who has 15 days to review the measure, plans to take up the issue Friday with relatives of 17 people slain in the Feb. 14 attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.


The bill would raise the minimum age to buy rifles from 18 to 21 and extend a three-day waiting period for handgun purchases to include long guns.

It would also create the so-called “guardian program” that allows school employees and many teachers to carry handguns if they go through law enforcement training and their school districts agree to participate.

Other provisions would create new mental health programs for schools and establish an anonymous tip line where students and others could report threats to schools. The bill would also ban bump stocks, which allow semiautomatic rifles to mimic automatic fire, and seeks to improve communication between schools, law enforcement, and state agencies.

State lawmakers formally delivered the reform package to the governor Thursday. ‘‘I’m going to take the time and I’m going to read the bill and I’m going to talk to families,’’ Scott said.

Scott, who is expected to seek a US Senate seat this year, has received top marks from the NRA in the past for supporting gun rights measures, but he broke with the lobbying group after last month’s slayings, which reinvigorated the gun-control movement.

The NRA opposes raising age limits to buy weapons or imposing new waiting periods. In a statement Thursday, NRA and Unified Sportsmen of Florida lobbyist Marion Hammer called the bill ‘‘a display of bullying and coercion’’ that would violate Second Amendment rights and punish law-abiding citizens.


In opposing the plan to arm teachers, Scott urged lawmakers to adopt his $500 million proposal to put at least one law enforcement officer in every school.

The Tampa Bay Times reported Thursday that officials in the state’s largest school districts, including Miami-Dade and Broward counties, have also rejected the idea of arming employees and instead have called for funding to support putting more police officers in schools.

The suspect in the attack, Nikolas Cruz, a 19-year-old former Stoneman Douglas student, faces 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted murder for the massacre.

Lawyers for Cruz withdrew his preliminary plea of not guilty Thursday, and informed the judge that he will make no plea at this time.

Cruz’s public defender has said Cruz will plead guilty if prosecutors take the death penalty off the table and sentence him to life in prison instead. Prosecutors have not announced a decision.

An attorney for the family that took in Cruz after his mother died said the gunman exchanged text messages with their son moments before opening fire.

Cruz asked the son of James and Kimberly Snead which classroom he was in and who his teacher was. The son was not wounded, lawyer Jim Lewis said Thursday.

Also Thursday, one student injured in the shooting was transferred to intensive care after his condition worsened. A hospital spokeswoman said 15-year-old Anthony Borges’ condition became critical overnight.

The Florida bill’s narrow passage reflected a mix of Republicans and Democrats in support and opposition. Survivors were split as well.

Andrew Pollack, whose daughter was among those killed, said more needed to be done, but there was enough good in the bill that it should pass.

‘‘My precious daughter Meadow’s life was taken, and there’s nothing I can do to change that,” he said.

“But make no mistake: I’m a father, and I’m on a mission. I’m on a mission to make sure I’m the last dad to ever read a statement of this kind.’’