It’s now up to Gov. DeSantis to decide if firearms are OK on school campuses that overlap with churches

By: - April 27, 2021 3:13 pm

Children participate in a March For Our Lives protest in 2018 following the school massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Credit: Scott Olson/Getty

Schools co-located with churches, synagogues and other religious institutions may soon see firearms on school campuses – despite the gun-free school laws Florida created in 2018.

Legislation on the issue is headed to Gov. Ron DeSantis for final review. If the governor signs it, the law would take effect immediately.

The Republican-backed measure was adopted 24-16 Tuesday over the objections of Democratic senators who tried without success Monday to push through some amendments. The House had had already approved the bill earlier.

The legislation was sponsored by Sen. Joe Gruters, who also is chair of the Republican Party of Florida.

The measure allows people who hold concealed-weapons permits to carry guns into schools co-located with religious institutions, such as a PreK building run by a church, or a church that leases school property for a PreK program. The measure erodes gun-free school zones in Florida.

However, this legislation would not mandate churches to allow people to go into such a PreK program. The church can opt in or not.

Gruters said the bill protects the private-property rights of congregations that want to allow concealed weapons to be carried in their midst, for self-defense against an armed attack — regardless whether that then subjects schools to having firearms on campus.

Currently, firearms are outlawed within 1,000 feet of school property, which applies to church-run schools and to religious institutions near schools or leasing property from schools.

Sen. Jason Pizzo, a Miami-Dade Democrat, argued the legislation is not in fact a property rights bill, because it violates the private property rights of a landlord who may not want firearms carried on property he or she leases to a church. Pizzo said the liability insurance for the landlord could skyrocket due to the presence of firearms on that property.

Gruters did not dispute it and said landlords, including school boards, will have to sort that out in their contracts.

State Sen. Tina Polsky, a Palm Beach County Democrat, and others argued that neither schools nor religious institutions will be safer from having more firearms around.

“More guns don’t make us safer. More guns make us less safe,” said Polsky said, citing an FBI study of 160 active shooter incidents from 2000 to 2013.

“Only one was stopped by an armed individual with a concealed weapons permit,” she said. “In contrast, 21 incidents were stopped by unarmed citizens. I believe there are other ways to make those institutions safe.”

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Laura Cassels
Laura Cassels

Laura Cassels is a reporter, former statehouse bureau chief, and former city editor. She is a classical pianist, a Florida State University graduate and proud alum of the Florida Flambeau, an independent college newspaper.