Rep. Yoho against stricter gun laws, hears other ideas at roundtable

Sheriffs, police chiefs, superintendents participate in discussion

By Chris Parenteau - Reporter, Francine Frazier - Senior web producer

ALACHUA, Fla. - Increased mental health funding, deputizing school personnel and allowing communities to decide what works best for them, rather than state or federal governments, were some of the ideas pitched Thursday when Rep. Ted Yoho held a school safety discussion with dozens of North Florida sheriffs, police chiefs and superintendents.

Yoho, R-Gainesville, hosted the meeting in Alachua County, where the group shared ideas about what each is doing or planning to do in their own school system in the wake of the deadly mass shooting Feb. 14 at a Parkland high school.

Yoho is against stricter gun regulations, saying they won't solve the problem, but wants the federal government to find a way to make more mental health funding available.

Superintendent Rick Surrency, from Putnam County, described a new program he and Sheriff Gator DeLoach announced Wednesday that would train district personnel to carry weapons in Putnam County schools.

Others agreed that might be a solution, and Bradford County Sheriff Gordon Smith pointed out his district has had a similar program for eight years.

Smith said his agency has been deputizing school employees and giving them the authority to address an active shooter, but they haven’t publicized  the program. 

Smith said that like the Putnam County program, individuals volunteer, then go through firearms training, mental screening and drug screening, just like a deputy would.

Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods said the key to improving school safety is coming up with good ideas, which he heard plenty of Thursday.

“Law enforcement is not the sole answer to the problem. We have to have community. We have to have involvement,” Woods said. “I got four ideas just off my fellow sheriffs and chiefs.”

Smith said those ideas have to be put into place at a local level, and that letting the state or federal government enact laws across the board is not the best idea because what works for one area might not work for another.

“We do what we do well -- law enforcement across America, from community to community,” Smith said. “We don’t need the federal government telling us what to do. We don’t need the state government telling us what to do. We need our communities telling us what they want and what they need.”

Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell said she and her colleagues have to take the lead on making changes because the eyes of the country are watching how Florida responds to last month's tragedy.

“It’s on Florida now to show that we can set a model,” Darnell said. “We can move forward and come up with a comprehensive set of circumstances that will better our communities.”

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