Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri hasn’t been a big fan of arming civilians. While he professes support for the Second Amendment, he’s warned Floridians that if they exercise their (limited) right to open carry, they risk taking a round to the chest if they encounter a law enforcement officer.
He also very publicly declined to charge Michael Drejka in the convenience store parking lot shooting of Markeis McGlockton, claiming that his hands were tied by the state’s “stand your ground” law. That appeared to be a convenient way of registering his disapproval of the law by letting a clearly questionable incident slide (Drejka was later charged with manslaughter by the State Attorney).
Now, however, Sheriff Gualtieri finds himself as chairman of the state commission that’s looking into all aspects of the Parkland school shooting. And his time reviewing what happened that day has brought about a significant change in his opinion on guns.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri now supports arming teachers and other school personnel as a line of defense against school shootings, a striking change of heart driven by his work with a state commission investigating February’s massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Gualtieri said Friday he changed his mind after watching surveillance video and studying the timelines of Parkland and other school shootings as chairman of the commission established to review what went wrong and recommend ways to make schools safer.
What specifically caused Gualtieri to re-examine his opinion?
The man accused in the shooting at the Broward County school, Nikolas Cruz, paused to reload his gun five times — moments that could’ve been taken advantage of by trained volunteer teachers and school staff had they been armed, Gualtieri said. A school resource deputy stayed outside while Cruz sprayed bullets from an AR-15 rifle inside, investigators said. The final fatal rounds had already been fired by the time law enforcement officers arrived.
Gualtieri had formerly only advocated adding more armed school resource officers — those who won’t merely stand outside while the shooting and killing take place inside — to the state’s schools. In his own county . . .
Pinellas opted instead to staff most schools with armed guards. Dozens of guards went through 176 hours of training over the summer, including active shooter drills and firearms training. Hillsborough and Pasco went similar routes, while Hernando is staffing with school resource deputies.
But one guard per school, or even more than one in selected high schools, isn’t enough, Gualteri said.
He pointed to the enrollment and footprint of Stoneman Douglas High: 3,300 students and 200 staff across a 45-acre campus with 16 buildings.
The additional fire power from teachers trained to carry weapons would provide more coverage and create a deterrent that would make potential attackers think twice, Gualteri said.
This change of heart hasn’t been well received by the state teachers association, which still adamantly opposes allowing teachers to volunteer to be trained and carry firearms. And Governor Rick Scott (now Senator-elect Scott) wasn’t a fan of the idea either.
It’s a proposal that both the state teachers union and PTA oppose.
So does Tony Montalto, whose daughter Gina was murdered in the February massacre.
Montalto is the President of the group Stand with Parkland which is made up of the families of all 17 victims.
“We are unequivocally against arming teachers. It happens to be the one thing that all 17 teachers initially came out against,” said Montalto.
Montalto believes a better idea is to focus on protecting campuses and keeping bad guys off school grounds.
But that’s head-in-the-sand thinking. Because if there’s one thing nearly everyone agrees on, it’s that it will happen again. The only question is how prepared the targeted school is to counter the attack.
The Pinellas union’s (president Mike) Gandolfo said he’d rather see more funding for mental and emotional health counseling in the schools, hardened buildings and sworn law enforcement on campus.
Still, Gandolfo said he agrees with Gualtieri on one point: It’s not if, but when, another attack happens.
With that in mind, Gualtieri said, the key is lessening the impact.
“The status quo has failed,” he said, “and unless we make change, we will continue to have an environment that doesn’t provide the right level of safety in schools.”