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Guess Who’s Rethinking Guns In Schools: Colleen Conklin May Not Oppose Designating Concealed Carriers, But She’s In a Minority

| April 9, 2015

Colleen Conklin is the odd one out on this one: the Flagler County School Board member considers herself 'on the fence' regarding allowing concealed guns in schools, while her colleagues, among them Andy Dance and Sue Dickinson, pictured here, are more comfortable sticking with school resource deputies. (© FlaglerLive)

Colleen Conklin is the odd one out on this one: the Flagler County School Board member considers herself ‘on the fence’ regarding allowing concealed guns in schools, while her colleagues, among them Andy Dance and Sue Dickinson, pictured here, are more comfortable sticking with school resource deputies. (© FlaglerLive)

In the wake of the Newtown school massacre in December 2012, few local voice spoke louder or more wrenchingly against gun violence than Colleen Conklin, the Flagler County School Board member since 2000. Though a supporter of the district’s school-deputy program, she’s never favored the last two years’ push by National Rifle Association-inspired advocates to allow school employees or volunteers to carry arms.

One such bill has cleared three Florida House committees and one Senate committee so far. It may not make it through the Legislature any more than a previous such attempt did.

But if it does, Conklin may not oppose it. “I think my thoughts on this are going to shock you,” she said at the start of an interview on the issue last week. “I’m on the fence.”

“My gut reaction was not even no, it was hell, no,” Conklin said of House Bill 19 when she first read it. “When you dig a little bit deeper and you look at what they are requiring in order for a district to implement this, or to do this, it’s actually quite complex. So for me on a personal level, I do not own a firearm, we do not have firearms in our home, I personally, for me, am uncomfortable with the notion that we would have personnel throughout our school that would be designated as individuals who would be armed. That’s Colleen Conklin. However, in thinking about multiple situations, and I had a constituent share their thoughts with me on this, and simply put, if there was an active shooter on campus, which is what this bill is really all about, and they lined up in a room, and you were standing next to your child, and the intruder had us lined up, would you rather I had a concealed weapon on me, standing next to you, that I would have an opportunity to save you and your child’s life in that room, or would you rather I be that I’m a pacifist, and we all die? And I have to be honest and say that that scenario has given me tremendous pause to really reconsider and rethink my initial reaction to this bill.”

Conklin is in the minority. Her more conservative colleagues on the board, among them Sue Dickinson and Trevor Tucker, are  opposed to the idea. Andy Dance is “comfortable” with existing school resource officers. Even Janet McDonald, the newest member of the board and its ostensibly most conservative—she is backed by the Ronald Reagan Republican Assemblies—has her doubts about the bill, even though philosophically she considers its intentions valid. She just doesn’t trust the Legislature to implement it effectively, starting with the funding it would require. In that respect, she’s right: the bill provides token dollars only even as it calls for rigorous training of those who’d carry weapons.

A bill making its way through the Florida Legislature would allow school boards to designate employees or volunteers to carry concealed weapons from pre-school to high school campuses. Most local school officials are leery.

The bill, sponsored by Gregory Steube, the Sarasota Republican, is part of a larger school-safety measure. The gun provision is simple: “A school superintendent, with approval of the school board, may authorize a school safety designee to carry a concealed weapon or firearm on school property.” So the decision to adopt the program would be left up to local school boards. It would not be a requirement. The allowance would apply to pre-schools as well, which means that VPK settings would be included, as would adult education facilities.

Should the local school board go that route, the designee may be either a school employee or a school volunteer licensed to carry a firearm. But the designee is required to be an active or retired member of the military who’s never had firearm-related infractions, or an active or retired law enforcement officer with a clean record. Principals may recommend certain individuals to the superintendent, who then may appoint them as a “school safety designee.”

The individual must have completed a safety program created by the Florida Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission and administered through state-operated criminal justice training centers. It may include active shooter training, firearm proficiency, school resource officer training, crisis intervention training, weapons retention training, and continuing education and training.

The Legislature recognizes that training costs money. But the bill provides for a total of only $157,000 for all 67 counties to that end. If the money is averaged out, that works out to about $2,300 per district.  (Such allocations are generally distributed according to district size, so Flagler’s share would likely be smaller.) Background screening costs are the responsibility of the designee or the school. That’s the sort of fine print that leads McDonald to doubt the effective intentions of such legislation. “I don’t think we’re getting enough to actually do the academic programs,” McDonald said, “so a lot of the legislation is a hope and a dream, and I don’t think that’s fair to the public, either. If Tallahassee is going to create programs, it should fund them.”

Based on the proposed law’s requirement, the weapon must be carried by the employee or the volunteer at all times, which means it may not be stored or locked up somewhere. Leaving the weapon within reach of a minor “who gains access” to the weapon, however, results in a mere second-degree misdemeanor. Signs on school property must prominently display the following: “Authorized Armed Defense Present and Permitted.”

“I’m not really in favor of that, to me it should be law enforcement only in K-12,” board member Trevor Tucker said. “I look at it like this: you can give anyone a firearm who’s sane and they’ll probably never ever use it. The problem is you never know who’s sane and who’s not.” Tucker doesn’t buy the convention that former law enforcement officers are necessarily a good idea to arm and put in schools. He points to the much-reported road rage incident on U.S. 1 in March 2013, when Nathaniel Juratovac, an ex-Flagler Beach cop, shot an unarmed Flagler County firefighter by roadside as both men’s families, with young children, were in their respective vehicles. Juratovac is serving a four-year prison sentence.

Tucker also mentions the liability issues that would complicate having armed men or women on campus. Dickinson is equally uncomfortable with the idea.

“I think it would be a very difficult challenge for us as a school board to develop a policy that would provide for the safety of everyone involved,” Dickinson said, though at that point she was under the impression that the weapon would have to be secured away from the individual designated to carry it. “I would be willing to discuss the policy. That doesn’t mean I’m agreeing with it. But I would be open to everybody coming up with whatever suggestions and ideas that they might have that would cover my concerns.”

Dickinson notes that if a policy were in place, it could open other vulnerabilities, including liability, if an incident were to take place, for example, on a bus or at the central office, where there may not be a person designated to carry a weapon. “I’m not so sure that that’s the answer. I believe that we can secure our buildings and our students and our employees in a much safer4 way. Yes it would cost us some money, but I do believe that there’s a better way for us to secure rather than putting guns in the schools.”

Board member Andy Dance spoke cautiously about the bill, as its final language has not yet been penned—nor has it passed all hurdles. Still, he said, he was reassured by its granting the authority to move ahead with concealed weapons—or not—to local school boards. Beyond that, Dance said, “I’m very comfortable with our arrangement with our SROs and the training our SROs go through. I think the training component is critical to having effective SROs in schools. It’s huge. The training they get in how to deal with situations.”

Stephen Hinson, the principal at Buddy Taylor Middle School and formerly the principal at Belle Terre Elementary, sees the day-to-day issues of security first-hand. To him, more weapons on campus aren’t the answer. “I would prefer that we left that task with law enforcement, and continue to allow my staff and myself to be tasked with the job of educating our students,” Hinson said. “And if they want security, to hire additional law enforcement officers.”

McDonald leans toward that approach, too, even as she notes the value of weapons as means of protection in active-shooter situations. “Research shows,” she said, “that when people have been responsible gun owners and have had concealed carry permits in places where incidents have happened, it has limited the chaos and the insults on other people in the area by the illegal gun holder, or the one doing the chaos. I don’t know it should be handled by the school board. I think it should be handled by the law enforcement people.”

The district is putting together its budget for next year, but it’s not yet clear how much additional money there will be overall for additional security.

Superintendent Jacob Oliva echoed other officials. “I personally believe that the best method of safety for our schools is to have licensed law enforcement officers in each of our schools,” he said. They’re trained, they’re in uniform, and they’re easily identifiable if there’s an assailant on campus, he said. Others may not be. But SROs are expensive. The district pays for four of the six SROs currently in schools, at a cost of $280,900 to the district just for four officers. Palm Coast pays for another officer, and the sheriff’s office pays for the sixth. The cost includes training. See the full contract here.)

“We’re going into budget season,” Oliva said. “The budgets haven’t been hashed out, but we’ve seen a version of the government’s budget, we’ve seen different versions in the senate and the house, and some of those budgets do have a small increase in the safe schools allocation. So personally I’d like to see that area increase more to cover additional costs.” For now, he’s not making recommendations regarding the weapons bill “because it might not go through.”

As for Sheriff Jim Manfre, there was no equivocation about the proposed bill. “Completely, 100 percent against it. Completely, 100 percent, I’m against,” he said. “We have school resource officers in the schools. Putting weapons in the school where people are untrained is a terrible idea.” Manfre doesn’t think more concealed weapons can make much of a difference. “I don’t think it’s going to solve the problem that we have—active shooters in our schools,” he said. “The thing that’s going to solve that is good security and good training for the professionals hat are in school.”

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18 Responses for “Guess Who’s Rethinking Guns In Schools: Colleen Conklin May Not Oppose Designating Concealed Carriers, But She’s In a Minority”

  1. Lancer says:

    So…it’s okay to let teacher’s look over our children, we just can’t trust these same people to be armed?

  2. Aletha says:

    I agree with you “Lancer”….why can’t our teachers be equipped to protect our children in the case it is ever necessary that they do so? We trust teachers with our children 5 days a week, why can’t we also trust that they need to be equipped to protect them as well. The article goes on and on about ‘COSTS”……who cares what it costs, these are our children! All avenues of protecting our children should be implemented. It also disturbs me that not one place in the article says, “Let’s ask the parents what they think”? Why should this decision just be left to the school board to decide? After all, these are our children. If our teachers were allowed to have guns, and are properly trained and licensed to have them, wouldn’t this provide a level of protection for our children in the classroom should the need arise? Sure it would.

    • NortonSmitty says:

      When I think back about some of the post-traumatic, drunken half-wited and menopausal teachers I endured, I’m thinking I’m gonna’ come down on the side of not arming them.

  3. ACLU Supporter says:

    Lancer – teachers aren’t infallible gods. Look at the number of them that get charged with sexual assault of their teenage students each year, or for abusive behavior towards disabled students. There are bad apples in that bunch.

    Conklin’s presented scenario certainly makes sense. Of course in that scenario we all wish the teacher standing next to our kid was CCW. But the scenario needs to be placed in a greater context of probabilities. What is more probable – that a school is going to experience an active shooter, or that the presence of a gun is going to in of itself create some sort of danger, through an accident or anger management problem? Statistics show that it is the latter. A CCW weapon on a school campus is more likely to cause a security incident than prevent or stop one. Ergo, the lesser of the risks is to keep weapons off campus. They cause more risks than they prevent.

  4. YankeeExPat says:

    I was hoping they would go with Bear traps and Crossbows!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Gotta go with Tucker on this one. Who is really sane?

  6. w.ryan says:

    A couple of years ago we were arguing against tasers. WTF??? We have Resource Officers. School is a sanctuary for educating and molding young minds. There is no need for anything more let alone buffs!

  7. Retired FF says:

    If one of my family were in a hostage situation regardless of where it occurred, I would want to have a trained, armed person capable of defending them there. With the terrible increase if violent crime in our country the only way to help deter it is that more qualified people need to be armed. I believe there is one of the Scandinavian countries that give the service weapon to soldiers when they leave the branch of service they were in. Violent crime in that country is almost non existent. Remember, guns don’t kill people. Crazy violent thugs and terrorist types do.

    • gatorboy says:

      Okay. The only problem with your scenario is that there is NO “terrible increase in violent crime in our country”. Statistics show we are living in the safest time in our history. What is different is the unceasing media regurgitation of any event, creating a collective paranoia about a situation that does not exist.

  8. Ray Thorne says:

    How many School Resource deputies are there? And how many schools do we have? There is not a resource deputy at every school. Manfre says putting weapons in school where people are untrained is a terrible idea. Mr Manfre is not a trained law enforcement officer yet he wears the uniform and carries a gun…kind of hypocritical there Jim. I’m sure designated people in the schools would receive all the proper training.
    When seconds count, then cops are just minutes away.

  9. Real Florida residence says:

    I agree with Mr. Ryan, if any student finds out that a teacher has a gun, it will change the entire educational setting for that school. If a student knows there’s extra security officers on their campus it is well recieved. Teachers have enough to worry about than if their weapons are on safe, cleaned and functional. Female teachers wear dresses, where the heck will they conceal a weapon? School boards across the states penny pinch when the Sheriff ask them to split the cost of more Resource Deputies, so who’s insurance will the teachers be under with weapons??????? Officers are trained in gun retention, how does a teacher keep a student(gang member/thug) from taking their weapon? Wish I could give a class presentation, got lots of reason why this is just not a good idea!!!!!!!!!

  10. I/M/O says:

    The law as to when a civilian can use deadly force and when a Police Officer can use deadly force are quite different. A Police Officer is entrusted with powers that a civilian should never be entrusted with.

    It is also a matter of having an in depth knowledge of the laws of justification to use deadly force in a situation. The Police must have an in depth knowledge of the law of justification. Teachers don’t have that.

    I would much prefer a Teacher take class to improve their teaching skills Rather then have them attend a Police Academy course of the laws of justification in using deadly force.

    Let the Teachers teach and let the Deputy Sheriffs provide security.

    As to allowing a retired Police Officer to be brought into a school armed with a firearm let us make sure that that person is up to the task of safeguarding that firearm and will not have it taken away from them by some 180 pound muscular student. Not wishing to offend any retired Police Officers but I doubt you can do at 50 what you did in your 20’s and 30’s. I for one have the humility to know that at my age I am no match for a younger man in a physical confrontation.

    What I would like to see in our schools is a training program that teaches both staff and students techniques to deal with a shooter. This hiding under a desk waiting to be executed is a bad plan. Classroom doors need to be upgraded where they can be locked from the inside and are strong enough to provide maximum security. Escape routes via windows even if that means putting “Fire Escapes” on the windows need to be looked at. Most of all students especially older students in middle schools and high schools need to be taught that most human beings will reflex duck if objects are continuously being thrown at him. Very difficult to accurately aim a gun with books, backpacks, chairs, phones, laptops coming at you. In a life and death situation everything becomes a defensive weapon. Cell phones can be replaced, your life cannot be replaced.

    Now some people may not like this but groups of American students need to i be taught that it is better for that group to rush a shooter and overpower him. Yes a few teachers and students may get shot doing this but they are probably going to get shot anyway.

    All of that said I think Ms. Conklin should think about some staff members carrying tasers or being armed with less lethal weapons. I would have no problem with weapons that fire blocks of wood or beanbags or a some staff having access to high powered mace devices that are used in our prisons everyday. But even in our prisons the use of firearms is always the last resort.

  11. I/M/O says:

    “…But SROs are expensive. The district pays for four of the six SROs currently in schools, at a cost of $280,900 to the district just for four officers. Palm Coast pays for another officer, and the sheriff’s office pays for the sixth….”

    So are we saying a person’s life is not worth $280,000?

    An estimated 55 million people are in schools in this nation everyday or about 17% of the nation’s total population.

    Somebody please explain to me how Police Chiefs do not see the need to provide police protection to those 55 million people on site. Why are they charging people for an Officer? The taxes have already been paid to provide those 55 million citizens with proper Police protection. A good Police administrator assigns his personnel to provide the maximum security to the maximum number of people. You don’t simply write off 55 million people each day as not needing police protection.

    Flagler County has a student population somewhere between 15,000 and 16,000 students. That is approximately 15% of the population. 15% of the population cannot have 6 Deputies assigned to protect them?

    That is simply preposterous. Somebody needs to tell our Sheriff that 15% of our population is entitled to on site police protection each day and that it is his obligation to provide it.

    • NortonSmitty says:

      “So are we saying a person’s life is not worth $280,000? ” I agree completely!

      I would extend this right of protection to prevent crime everywhere, as we both agree that cost is no object. It’s only sensible that we should all be assigned some type of Government protector to watch over us all 24/7. Not only in our homes, but to follow us to work and our kids to school. Well actually three of them in 8 hour shifts for each of us. And we will obviously have to screen them for perversions as they will be watching over us as we, ahem, sleep. But it is the least we can expect as real protection for us citizens here in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. Because we cannot possibly tolerate crime here in our country, as it would steal our freedom from us.

      “A population who would trade Security for Freedom deserves neither.” Tommy Jefferson

  12. Retired FF says:

    I think you should take a look at this link. 387 school shootings since 1992. How can you say we don’t have a problem?

  13. downinthelab says:

    Good for her, I carry everywhere, everyday

    • NortonSmitty says:

      FF, there are approximately 2 million children entering school public and private in any given year. So that makes about 24 Million kids in grades 1 to 12, or 24 Million at any given time. . As you say there were 387 shootings over the last 23 years., no data on how many were fatalities or how many were shot by the Police. That breaks down to less than a 17 per year average for a 1 in 1,424,332 chance per year of a student getting shot at any given school. Or roughly dying from a bee sting while being eaten by a shark who is being hit by lightning. But you put a weapon in every schoolteachers purse, I’m pretty sure that statistic will rise dramatically.
      Also, you have to realize that you law-and-order types are not the only gun lovers out there. The only thing that may make you re-think your universal carry dreams may be this. From the late great Gil Scott Heron:

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