MIAMI — The outcome of the vote in the Florida State House this week was a foregone conclusion: A proposal to allow teachers to carry firearms in school would easily win approval.
But that did not mean the debate would not be long and emotional, as Democrats implored Republicans in the majority to consider the possible risks — one of them being teachers with guns who might represent yet another source of risk for black and Latino students.
The tension peaked when Representative Shevrin D. Jones, a Democrat who is African-American, tried unsuccessfully to pass a pair of amendments on the House floor on Tuesday aimed at protecting children from the possibility that an armed teacher in a chaotic situation could assume that a black student was a threat.
One amendment would have required any teacher who volunteers for the so-called school guardian program to be trained in implicit bias, or stereotypes that could unconsciously affect spur-of-the-moment decisions. The other would have prohibited a teacher who shoots a student by mistake in a situation with an active shooter on campus from claiming self-defense under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.
“We are talking about black boys and girls who are getting murdered by police officers!” Mr. Jones, who represents the city of West Park, near Fort Lauderdale, shouted into the microphone. “There are bad police officers and there are bad teachers.”
He portrayed some Republicans, who have preferred assigned seats in the chamber as a result of their majority, as uninterested in the plight of racial and ethnic minorities.
“There’s a reality that some of us have that some of you on the front row could care less about,” Mr. Jones said. Some people, he said, might look at a “boy who’s got dreads in his hair and be intimidated by him.”
“I fight for those people!”
As Mr. Jones delivered his fervent speech, which brought him nearly to tears, a couple of other Democrats walked toward him in a show of support. But his amendments, as expected, went nowhere.
On Wednesday, the House passed the legislation mostly along party lines, with a vote of 65-47. Five Republicans broke with their party to vote no. The bill, which was approved by the State Senate last week, now heads to the desk of Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, who is expected to sign it.
In the eight days that elapsed between the Senate vote and the House vote, a gunman killed a woman at a synagogue in San Diego and another killed two people at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. And as House lawmakers debated the legislation on Tuesday, news broke in Florida that a school resource officer’s holstered firearm went off at a Pasco County school cafeteria as the officer leaned against a wall. No one was hurt.
Several Republicans pointed to the San Diego shooting, in which a man said he rushed the shooting suspect, as a reason Florida should allow local school districts to partner with sheriff’s offices to train teachers who volunteer to do so to carry guns on campus.
“None of us want to be debating this,” Representative Byron Donalds of Naples, the only African-American in the House Republican caucus, said on Wednesday. “But the one thing that we have to acknowledge — as unfortunate as it is — is that when a psychotic person enters a facility, a school, where kids are at play or at study or at lunch and they pull a weapon, the first responders, the real first responders, are the school staff that love our children.”
Mr. Jones, 35, who suffered a serious nerve injury in 2016, was absent from Wednesday’s vote. His office said he had been rushed to the hospital on Wednesday morning suffering from vertigo, and was prescribed bed rest.
School districts in some of the state’s biggest cities, with large numbers of black and Hispanic students, have declined to participate in the guardian program, which was created last year after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that left 17 people dead and 17 wounded. The compromise worked out last year allowed certain school staff, but not classroom teachers, to be trained to carry guns.
In December, a state commission investigating the shooting recommended expanding the program to include classroom teachers. Investigators concluded that an armed teacher might have stopped the confessed attacker in Parkland. The provision was written into legislation that incorporated a slew of other commission recommendations relating to school safety and students’ mental health.