Parkland Commission Recommends Arming Teachers

Parkland Commission Recommends Arming Teachers

Parkland Commission Recommends Arming Teachers

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission has released and approved a whopping 446 page report on the shooting itself, and their recommendations for changes in the future. The biggest takeaway? The commission recommends that teachers be armed.

The report details what is believed to have happened before, during, and after the Feb. 14 shooting attack that left 17 dead and 17 wounded.

The Legislature would have to approve the proposal to allow teachers to carry guns. It’s opposed by the teachers union and the PTA.

The report is highly critical of the Broward Sheriff’s Office, which recently changed its policy in the wake of the shooting.

The MSD Commission previously said the Broward Sheriff’s Office’s active shooter policy contributed to the massacre.

We have extensively covered the failures by the Broward Sheriff’s Office to stop the shooter, including the absolute cowardice of former Sheriff’s Deputy Scot Peterson. So, why is the commission recommending arming teachers – those who choose to volunteer and train to actually carry?

Maybe because a federal judge ruled in December that Peterson, and by extension law enforcement, who were the ONLY ONES ARMED, had NO OBLIGATION to actually protect the students on the day of the shooting or confront the shooter.

The Dec. 12 ruling, by Judge Beth Bloom, came on the same day that a county judge, Patti Englander Henning, came to the opposite conclusion. Judge Henning found that Scot Peterson, the armed sheriff’s deputy who heard the gunfire but did not run in and try to stop the attack, did have an obligation to confront Mr. Cruz.

The two decisions in rapid succession highlight an assumption often made: the belief that the public has a right to receive protection from police officers.

But police officers, in fact, generally are not under any legal obligation to protect citizens who are not in their custody.

“Neither the Constitution, nor state law, impose a general duty upon police officers or other governmental officials to protect individual persons from harm — even when they know the harm will occur,” said Darren L. Hutchinson, a professor and associate dean at the University of Florida School of Law. “Police can watch someone attack you, refuse to intervene and not violate the Constitution.”

The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the government has only a duty to protect persons who are “in custody,” he pointed out.

“Courts have rejected the argument that students are in custody of school officials while they are on campus,” Mr. Hutchinson said. “Custody is narrowly confined to situations where a person loses his or her freedom to move freely and seek assistance on their own — such as prisons, jails, or mental institutions.”

There are exceptions, Mr. Hutchinson said, as when a crossing guard who is specifically assigned to protect children traveling across a street allows a child to get run over while, say, the guard is being distracted by a smartphone. The crossing guard is in a “special relationship” with the children, in legal eyes.

When an officer has a “special relationship” with people, or acts to “enhance the risk” of harm, the officer can be liable for any resulting injury under state negligence laws, Mr. Hutchinson said.

This is likely how Judge Henning found that Mr. Peterson did have a duty to protect those inside the school and refused to dismiss the negligence lawsuit filed by Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was killed.

The county lawsuit argued that Mr. Peterson had a “special relationship” with students and staff members at the school because he was specifically assigned to offer them protection.

Video footage and other evidence shows Mr. Peterson, the only armed officer at the school, staying outside while shots could be heard exploding from inside the school. Mr. Peterson also launched a “code red” to put the entire school on lockdown.

“They also argued that he enhanced the risk of death, or injury, by Mr. Cruz by negligently ordering a lockdown, which prevented escape from the building,” Mr. Hutchinson said. “Either of these assertions could support liability for Peterson. But I would not be surprised if the state case was reversed on appeal. It is very difficult to establish liability in this area of law.”

The federal decision is expected to be appealed.

With this kind of judicial conflict between the federal and county courts, the commission may have felt that the only reasonable solution left was to say that those who wish to be armed, should be armed.

While some teachers are not going to be comfortable with the idea of being armed, or having colleagues be armed, let me ask you this: if law enforcement has no obligation to protect your students, who will? How do you expect parents to be okay with sending their children to school, knowing that police have a legal pass to not respond?

We have seen teachers killed in the past while trying to protect or save students. I think it is fair to say that teachers care about protecting their students far more than the police care. For those who are willing to invest the time and training, why not allow a teacher to carry? Or would we all rather see another Marjory Stoneman Douglas, where law enforcement hides while students die, and then are able to walk away with a generous pension? I am all for holding Scot Peterson accountable for his cowardice. But even more, I want to see those on the front lines – the teachers who decide to make themselves sheepdogs – able to defend themselves and their students.

Featured image via Pixabay, CC0 1.0 Creative Commons license

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