Senate education chair skeptical about arming teachers

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The chairman of the Senate Education Committee said Tuesday he was cool to the idea of arming teachers after his panel held the first legislative hearing into how to prevent massacres like the school shooting in Connecticut from happening in Florida.

"I'm not a big fan of putting more guns on campus on people that are untrained," said Sen. John Legg, R-Port Richey. "The propensity for accidents is great in that area."

Legg also said he expected individual members to drive the discussion of legislation about school safety.

"I don?t anticipate a committee bill, per se, but I do anticipate bills coming through this committee that address school safety," Legg said.

In the wake of the Newtown shootings, some conservatives nationwide and in Florida have proposed allowing teachers to carry guns or placing armed guards at schools.

Others have supported increasing the number of school resource officers from local law enforcement agencies.

Grady Cannon, assistant principle at Pace High School in Santa Rosa County, said the resource officer at his school now has responsibility for seven other schools in addition to Pace. Cannon also opposed arming teachers.

"That's not a very smart thing to do. ... Accidents are going to happen if you put those kinds of items in the hands of the public," he said.

Superintendents and lawmakers at the Tuesday hearing, though, seemed more inclined to leave specific decisions like those in the hands of local school districts. Much of the discussion centered on increasing funding or giving districts more flexibility to use the money they do receive to respond to threats.

"The freedom to spend any funds that do come down, whether they be federal or state, is key to the local districts," said Wakulla County Schools Superintendent Robert Pearce.

Another hearing focused on the potential budgetary responses to the Newtown killings is scheduled for Wednesday.

St. Johns County Schools Superintendent Joseph Joyner said the state could require local schools to undergo safety audits, with districts making the necessary changes after discussions with law enforcement.

"I think that the state has a responsibility to expect certain things," he said.

At least one lawmaker indicated he thought the steps school districts could take to confront the problem were limited. Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, said the state should also look at clamping down on the sale of violent video games.

"In the long term, you're going to have to and we're all going to have to deal with the problem of violence that exists so long as we continue to permit children to have a steady diet of violence," he told the superintendents.

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