Rep. Karen Castor Dentel, a Maitland Democrat and teacher, turned a few heads last week when she voted for a bill that would allow school employees to carry concealed weapons to class.
The bill, HB 1097, sponsored by Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, is opposed by the state teachers’ union that helped elect Dentel last year in a hard-fought race, along with the state school boards association and parent-groups.
But Dentel wasn’t the only Democrat on the House education subcommittee that went along with the bill after it was amended to require the employee to keep the weapon on them at all times. The bill requires that a school administrator designate which employees could carry a gun, and Dentel sent us a lengthy explanation for her vote.
Here it is:
Yes, with much hesitation and questions remaining, I voted yes in the committee after listening to Rep Steube’s valid concerns of rural schools without security upgrades and no resource officer at the school. These rural schools also may have problems with timely police response. With Sandy Hook’s massacre of 6 adults and 20 children happening in less than 5 minutes, I felt that rural schools needed some form of defense or basic protection. What Rep. Steube proposed with highly trained adults with concealed permits wasn’t ideal, but it could be a way to prevent another massacre. I was trying to weigh a potential accidental shooting against a potential violent massacre, when I really should have been looking at priorities.
I still agree with Rep. Steube that schools need more protection given today’s climate and easy access to guns. During Wednesday’s committee meeting, I tired to step away from my purist ideology of “no guns on campus” so that I could really listen to what was being said. I have come up with a number of amendments to further restrict who and how many adults could fulfill that role. But with further deliberation, I don’t believe we can or should leave their protection in the hands of trained amateurs, when what we really need are professional law enforcement who have the judgment and experience needed in such situations.
If we as a community really want to protect our students, we can demand the millions of state PECO dollars to retrofit or upgrade the safety features of our buildings (instead of diverting all of it to charter schools) and find the funds to add a professional law enforcement at our schools.
I hope that helps you understand my unexpected stance in committee.