FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The nation's two largest education unions reiterated their opposition to arming teachers as a response to school shootings Monday, saying more guns on campuses will make them less safe.
The American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association joined with Everytown for Gun Safety to oppose proposals in Florida and elsewhere to arm teachers and staff members in response to the Marjory Stoneman High School massacre, which left 17 dead. The anniversary of the mass shooting is Thursday.
The Florida Legislature is considering a recommendation by the state commission that investigated the shooting to allow school districts to arm volunteer teachers who undergo background checks and training. The commission concluded that relying solely on law enforcement is insufficient because mass shootings are usually over in one to three minutes and police officers likely won't arrive in time.
But the unions and Everytown say they oppose such measures for several reasons, including the possibility of students stealing teachers' guns and responding officers confusing an armed teacher for the shooter. They said a study of New York City police officers showed they hit their target about one time in five shots during firefights, and teachers would be even worse. Those errant bullets would further endanger students.
"Putting more guns in schools is not what is going to make them safe," said Becky Pringle, the NEA's vice president, on a conference call with reporters.
Instead, the groups said, elected and school officials should focus on enacting laws preventing children and mentally ill people from possessing guns. Those would include a "red flag law" where relatives, law enforcement and, in some cases, teachers can petition a judge to order those found dangerous to surrender their guns. They also called for universal and tougher background checks for all gun purchases and a ban on military-style, high-powered rifles like the AR-15 used at Stoneman Douglas and other mass shootings.
Florida passed a red flag law after the Stoneman Douglas shooting and raised the minimum age to buy rifles from 18 to 21. Suspect Nikolas Cruz legally purchased his AR-15 shortly after he turned 18 despite a long, documented history of mental and emotional problems. Twelve other states also have red flag laws.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who chairs the state commission investigating the Stoneman Douglas shooting and its causes, has said he was opposed to arming teachers until he watched security video of the massacre. He says there were opportunities for an armed teacher to shoot Cruz as he reloaded even before the Broward sheriff's deputy assigned to the school arrived at the building but took cover instead of confronting him. He has said that the unions and others who oppose arming teachers are engaging in knee-jerk, what-if scenarios that aren't realistic.
Under a law passed after the shooting, districts can arm non-classroom employees such as principals, other administrators, custodians and librarians who undergo training. Thirteen of the state's 67 districts now do, mostly in rural parts of the state.
The commission voted 14-1 to recommend that districts arm teachers. The commission includes law enforcement, mental health and education officials and the fathers of two slain students.
Stoneman Douglas teacher Sarah Lerner said Monday that even if she or another teacher had a handgun during the massacre, they would have had to retrieve it without getting shot and then still would have been outgunned. The risks are too high, she said.
"If the gun falls in the wrong hands, if you mistakenly shoot the wrong student who you think is armed and dangerous, if your gun goes off in class ... it is probably the most ridiculous solution I have heard," she said.