Arming teachers: A sheriff's perspective

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd says it’s the job of law enforcement to identify potential school shooters “long before they show up at the school” to do “their evil deed.”

“But when we don't,” he asked, “and that armed assailant with his gun is walking down the hallway to your child's classroom to slaughter your child and all of his colleagues…and no cops are around, do you want somebody who's volunteered and well trained to stop them from murdering your child?”

The sheriff says that’s the choice facing parents, teachers, school administrators, and elected school boards as lawmakers consider allowing classroom teachers to be armed.  

“That’s an easy answer to me”, the sheriff said this week, adding, “I got grandkids in the system.”

Judd is a member of the school safety commission that investigated the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman-Douglass High School in Parkland.  The commission determined there were at least five times the shooter could have been stopped if faculty members had been armed.  

It’s one of the reasons the commission voted, 13 to 1, to recommend changing the law to allow armed teachers.

“We saw not only teachers, other staff members -- had they volunteered, had they been appropriately trained -- could have stopped him before he could have entered the building, could have stopped him before he ever shot anybody, could have stopped him way before he killed all the children that he did,” Judd said, pushing back against critics who oppose the legislation.

On Tuesday, the state Senate followed through on the recommendation, passing a bill allowing well-trained teachers to carry guns – if their local school boards approve.  All but one Republican voted in favor it, while every Democrat voted against it.  

The House is also expected to pass the bill and Governor Ron DeSantis says he’ll sign it if it reaches his desk.

At every step along the way, the state teachers’ union has stood opposed, saying more guns in classrooms makes students less safe. The sheriff called that a “false narrative” and suggested the union leadership is in denial.

“We know the average shooter is finished between two and five minutes.  The average police response is plus five minutes,” the sheriff said.  

The sheriff said the killer at Stoneman Douglass shot seven people in the first three seconds and “in the first minutes and 39 seconds, he shot 23 people and killed nine.”

The sheriff pushed back against the notion that the bill would lead to unsecured guns in classrooms, within an arm’s reach of students. He said no teacher would be required to carry a gun. Only those who volunteer would be allowed – and only after passing a rigorous training program and background checks.

He says the 144 hours of firearms training exceeds that required to become a certified law enforcement officer.

The bill ultimately leaves it up to each individual school district to decide whether to allow teachers to be armed.  So far, every Bay Area school district that’s voted on the idea has rejected it.

RELATED: Many Florida schools reject arming teachers, despite Parkland Commission recommendation

Caroline Zucker, the vice-chair of the Sarasota County School Board, told FOX 13 that teachers “are there to teach our students.  They are not there as armed personnel.”  

The Sarasota School Board voted April 2 against allowing teachers to be armed.  

Zucker’s comments echoed those of Hillsborough School Board member Melissa Snively, who, after “speaking to many teachers and students” voted against it in February. 

The Manatee School Board became the latest to reject the idea at its meeting April 23.

Sheriff Judd suggested those decisions are shortsighted and risky.

“If those elected officials at the local level want to stop children’s lives from being saved, if they want to strip teachers who volunteer, who may have even retired out of the military or law enforcement, if they want to stop them from protecting children, that’s on them,” he said, adding “And shame on you for wanting to take a tool off the table that will keep children safe.”