Scott meets with police chiefs to talk about response to school shooting in Parkland

Program to arm some school staff outside of the classroom concerns police chiefs

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – While lawmakers discuss a $400 million school-safety bill prompted by the Valentine's Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Florida Gov. Rick Scott met with two groups of police chiefs Tuesday.

Scott said the discussion centered on the bill's $67 million program to allow school staff and faculty to volunteer to carry weapons on campus outside of classrooms. The program is named after coach Aaron Feis, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas alumnus who was an assistant football coach and security guard when he died while trying to save lives Feb. 14. 

The controversial program was initially in line with President Donald Trump's idea to arm and train some teachers to respond to shooters like Nikolas Cruz, who used an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle to kill Feis and 16 others in Parkland. 

"I don’t believe in arming teachers," Scott said outside of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement headquarters. "I believe in all schools having law enforcement officers."

Scott had the endorsement of the National Rifle Association for his support of gun rights measures, but he has changed some of his positions after the outrage that followed the school shooting in Parkland. And when it comes to armed teachers, the Republican is disagreeing with Trump and the NRA. 

The NRA released an  "emergency alert" Tuesday responding to Scott and a growing number of Republicans who are endorsing raising the minimum age for purchasing rifles to 21 years old.

"You and every other law-abiding gun owner are being blamed for an atrocious act of premeditated murder," the NRA's "alert" said. "Neither the 3-day waiting period on all rifles and shotguns, raising the age from 18 to 21 to buy any firearm, or the bump stock ban will have any effect on crime."

Scott is planning a campaign to oust Sen. Bill Nelson, who is among the Democrats criticizing him for failing to pass any significant gun control or school safety laws during his three terms in office. And while the NRA wants lawmakers to vote against the bill, Scott is finding allies in the law enforcement community.  

On Tuesday, Scott said that what is important for him to sign the bill is that "we have money for law enforcement, we have it there, make sure we have mental health counselors, make sure we don't arm teachers, make sure we have everything there to harden these schools."

Scott will have to persuade Florida Republican lawmakers to support his ideas. The Florida Senate approved the measure Monday with a 20-18 vote, after excluding classroom teachers from the voluntary program. The Florida House is expected to vote this week. 

Scott has the support of police chiefs from around the state. After the Tuesday meeting, Margate Police Department Chief Dana Watson said the program designed to bring more weapons to school could be problematic. 

"It’s going to change the dynamics if you start putting people that aren’t police officers that are identifiable as armed in a school," Watson said. 

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami, concerned Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, who raised the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin, 17, in Sanford, as an example of what could go wrong when a school staff member feels threatened. 

The bill ignored the requests of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivors and their parents who have been asking for a ban on assault-style weapons. The young activists, who have organized events to fuel their Never Again movement, oppose the program to arm school staff. 

"There is a lot of anxiety, not from just students and teachers," said Bay Harbor Islands Police Department Chief Sean Hemingway after the meeting with Scott. 

Miami Shores Police Department Chief Kevin Lystand agreed and added that he had concerns about implementation and budgeting. 

"Who is going to control them, arm them, train them?" Lystand said. "Where is the funding going to come from?"

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