End the Test and Die Era, part 5: No, Senator Stargel, this is a “comprehensive” school safety plan

What follows is a bullet list of proposals contained within Billy Townsend’s comprehensive school security plan. I think this would make a much, much better bill than the hash of bad faith political talking points that Tallahassee just bumble-panicked into existence.

Context and discussion follows below and in subsequent essays. But I want to put this up front for readers who may not have the time to read everything.

  • Treat guns like cars. (Or dogs.) Polk County should create a local county database of AR-15 ownership as a pilot program. Sheriff Judd, who likes to innovate, could oversee it. That would make it clear no one is coming to take your guns. But, if a person is flagged with a violent mental health manifestation, we would be able to know whether he or she has access to an AR-15 and act accordingly. We could add weapons to it as the stakeholders see fit; but the AR-15 has become the weapon of choice for mass shooters of all kinds, not just schools. So it makes a reasonable starting point. We would probably need a state waver/law change and the County Commission to vote on it, which is fitting. This is a community issue. I want Polk law enforcement officers to know who owns AR-15s in our county. That is just common sense safety.
  • Provide every school with multi-person humanity teams, like that just created for Kathleen High. Model them after the very successful team at Lake Wales Charter High that significantly reduced violence there. These teams would do nothing but counsel; do bully intake and resolution; reach out to parents daily in friendly ways to make sure they understand what’s happening at a school. Whatever the humanity of a school needed, this team could do. This is crucial. And if I could choose any single reform, this is it. It helps far beyond mass shooting protection. All that stops us is money.
  • Provide uniformed police officers for every school. At the elementary level, make school protection, rather than interaction with kids, their prime focus. Walk the perimeter of the school throughout the day; examine and report security defects. Think school security officer. But there are problems with this, too, which I’ll discuss in later essays.
  • Approve the Polk referendum for continuing our local option sales tax for capital to fund any intelligent “hardening” that meager state funding will not cover.
  • Consider adopting a local option property tax increase through referendum (as has been done in Sarasota, Orange, and other counties. More on that to come.) What the public is demanding costs money. Lots and lots of money. The public will need to decide if it’s serious about these demands because the state does not give me the right or power to decide on the public’s behalf.
  • Keep a secure, living document of security observations and recommendations created by stakeholders (parents, teachers, kids staff) for each individual school. Each school is different, built at different times on different plans in different communities. I want to know about doors, access points, etc. from the school’s point-of-view. Then we can match to security leading practice and make sound decisions on upgrades.
  • Document run, hide, fight training — but couch that training in numerical likelihood of a shooting occurring, which is tiny. Make sure the training applies to schools if its shown at schools. And also address the need for kids and staff to be aware of the suffering of their peers because of the 2000 kids per year who die by suicide.
  • A national NTSB-type organization for mass shootings. Like airplane crashes, mass shootings are almost always system failures. The NTSB studies transportation system failures without emotional blame so that we get safety improvements. That process would be a great improvement on the hysterical, useless politics of Tallahassee.


There is an obvious compromise between banning guns and endlessly indulging an American gun advocacy culture that has completely lost its way — both in terms of respect for weapons and respect for fellow citizens.

If you doubt me on this respect question, just watch this video from NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch. This is not a person or a political operation that has any respect for the dignity of self-defense or for fellow citizens. At all. None.

I’m not terribly interested in debating or trying to reason with that. It is what it is.

But I am interested in collaborating with anyone, of any political or cultural persuasion, who approaches me in good faith about how to both protect children and people while preserving important freedoms. And for the record: the NRA has recently provided some air rifles and shooting support to several of our ROTC teams. I thank them for it. Shooting is as important to many students as music or sports is.

And that brings us back to the obvious compromise. As I’ve said many times before: Treat. Guns. Like. Cars. Impose responsible ownership through licensing and training. Track ownership through title, so we can link it seriously to behavior and/or mental health concerns.

We could start that process immediately by creating a central ownership database for AR-15s, which have become the weapon of choice of mass shooters of all kinds.

Ban versus regulate: governing means thinking through the real world impact of policy trade-offs

I’m not virulently opposed to banning AR-15s — or the weapons we lump under the imprecise terms “assault rifle” or “military-style.” But I don’t really support a ban, either. Why?

Because I understand from historical study how prohibition works. The “if guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns” slogan is not incorrect. That same concept applies to everything we prohibit. When you ban alcohol, or you ban marijuana, or you ban abortions, or you ban certain types of popular sex, or you ban anything that people want in somewhat large numbers, you don’t actually ban that thing.

You just make that thing harder and more dangerous to get. You make criminals out of the people who get and provide it, the vast majority of whom are not inherently criminal. And you create lots of illegal commerce and money that human beings will kill and maim to control. Prohibition kills and drives social division. History proves it over and over again.

The question becomes: is all of that worth it to make the thing you want to suppress harder to get? For instance, there’s a black market around murder. But obviously, the benefits of making murder illegal outweigh the harms of its prohibition. And when I ask myself: are the harms of AR-15 black market worse than the harms of its legality? I have to answer: I don’t know. It’s a pretty close call, I think, simply on the operational, not cultural, merits.

In a world where many, many AR-15s already exist in private hands, I don’t see much evidence that banning them will prevent their use in future atrocities. It could limit them somewhat, which has a benefit, of course. However, I think you can get that same benefit without the prohibition downsides through enhanced regulation, registration, and training/licensing requirements. I see no downside, at all, in that for anyone.

I am the parent of a child I love in the Polk County public schools. As a parent, I want law enforcement to have the capability to know instantly, if necessary, if one of his peers has access to an AR-15 or similar weapon. I consider that a far more valuable safety mechanism than a distracted staff member armed at all times and waiting for a mass shooting that will most likely never come. I also believe that as a coldly rational elected official trying to make smart decisions.

Ownership tracking and enhanced licensing comes with none — NONE — of the safety risks of jamming 1,500-1,700 guns into Polk Schools, which is the number the state budget for the “Guardian” program contemplates.

There are people who feel differently about that math. I have talked to them at length. They deserve to be listened to with respect. They deserve to have their point-of-view heard and publicly considered. That’s why I helped The Ledger find a teacher who supports the Marshal/Sentinel/Guradian program for its excellent story last weekend.

I think it’s important for as many voices as possible to be heard and considered in something this inherently divisive and emotional.

A thoughtless “safety” law designed to serve petty political ambitions

I saw precious little broad-based thinking, fact-finding, or pursuit of consensus as the Florida Legislature bumble-panicked its way to a “school safety” bill.

But I also expect nothing else from America’s worst Legislature. It banned AR-15s and then unbanned them in the space of about an hour last weekend. That’s how silly, thoughtless, and dead this institution is. That’s who represents you.

America’s worst governing body, which is also America’s worst employer, spent most of its time figuring out how to simultaneously arm teachers and strip them of workplace protections. That’s how the terrible people in Tallahassee chose to honor the sacrifice of teachers who died to save their kids at Douglas High.

House Bill 7055 contained a gratuitous, all-out assault on teacher working conditions, which are already difficult. It was supposedly an attack on union protection and representation — but police and fire unions were exempt. This was about teachers. The people who have run Florida for 20 years hate them.  I truly don’t know why.

And while this was an overwhelmingly Republican effort, Democratic Sen. Bill Montford, who is also the highly paid leader of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents (FADSS), cast the deciding vote on 7055.

If Jackie Byrd decides she can live without membership in FADSS, I would happily withhold Polk’s dues until it got rid of the teacher-hating turncoat who leads it. Democrats need to renounce Montford and the cowardice he stands for. He did them immense political harm heading into the 2018 elections by giving bipartisan cover to U.S Senate candidate Rick Scott; governor-candidate  Richard Corcoran; and incompetent soon-to-be-has-been Senate President Joe Negron.

By contrast, Scott, Corcoran, and Negron delivered for their NRA patrons. Pay no attention to Marion Hammer’s fake squawks. This security bill is great for the NRA. It gave away nothing remotely meaningful and gained tacit approval of putting guns into schools. That’s winning, if you’re the NRA. Give them their due, which I have no problem doing. I don’t define success in intelligently securing schools by whether or not the NRA is happy.

And I’m glad U.S. Senate Candidate Scott signed the bill. At least we get those people out of Tallahassee for the year so they can do no more damage before November.

Let’s see how the bill plays out on the ground in combination with perennial awful budget. And then let’s build a coalition of the serious to actually end the Test-and-Die model.

Meet the “ammonium nitrate security program,” Kelli

Sen. Kelli Stargel is not part of that coalition.

Some of you may have seen her “thoughts and prayers” video from last weekend. Access it here if you want. 

Her full speech provides some quite revealing substance. I think it shows the smallness, laziness, and ignorance of her thinking more than the whole “thoughts and prayers” riff.

It’s not the weapon that matters, Stargel said, but rather “the evil from within” that causes people to commit heinous crimes. 

“But are we going to ban fertilizer, which is what they used in the Oklahoma bombing?” Stargel asked. “Are we going to ban pressure cookers, which is what they used in the Boston massacre? Are we going to ban the multiple handguns that were used in other assaults? Are we going to ban the sawed-off shotgun as what was used in Columbine?”

Well, no, we haven’t banned fertilizer. But largely because of Oklahoma City, we have identified it as a dangerous substance that needs regulation and monitoring. The Department of Homeland Security literally has a thing called the “Ammonium Nitrate Security Program.” Read all about it at this link.

A minimally prepared elected official would know that. A senator who took her job remotely seriously would take a half a second to analyze the talking points whatever donor wrote for her. But that’s not Kelli.

“Comprehensive” does not mean what Kelli thinks it means

The words “comprehensive” and “compromise” have a common root. They emerge from the Latin word “cum,” which means “together” or “with.”

Clearly, Kelli Stargel does not know that. “Together” and “with” are the last words on her mind when she says this:

“So I’m gonna continue to do the thoughts and prayers, but I’m also gonna do a comprehensive plan.”

Um, no. What I proposed at the beginning of this essay is the basis of a comprehensive plan. What your Legislature just did is neither comprehensive, nor a plan. It’s just bunch of mud thrown against a Legislative wall by maybe six people: Scott, Corcoran, Negron, Bill Galvano, NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer, and Polk Sheriff Grady Judd.

Those six or so folks did nothing “with” anyone except each other, Kelli Stargel included. She might as well say “thoughts and prayers” because that’s about as much influence as she had on this package. Using “I” in that sentence is level of vanity she has not earned. The state senate seat she holds is important and powerful. She isn’t.

The sheriff and the coalition of the serious

By contrast, Sheriff Judd is important and influential — extraordinarily so. I desperately want him in the coalition of the serious. I’m very pleased that the School Board will finally have a public meeting with him on Tuesday.

But I also regret that he’s been pursuing state and national political advocacy without seeking or considering the input of his home county elected School Board, or as near as I can tell, any of our shared constituents. Rather than seek out your School Board, Sheriff Judd sought out Scott, Corcoran, Negron, Galvano, and Hammer.

I don’t know if the sheriff understands that the people with whom he collaborated here have done everything they can to destroy the teaching profession and neighborhood public schools. I don’t know if he understands that it’s hard for most of us in public education to believe those same people have much interest in protecting kids and teachers, especially when they simultaneously seek to hurt them. I hope to help the sheriff understand that.

Likewise, the sheriff did not seek out Polk School Board input prior to his recent meeting with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whom the President of the United States dismisses as “Mr. Magoo.” (Really, he does. I’m not making that up. Follow the link.)

The sheriff apparently did not think it was worth sharing a Florida School Board member’s thoughts with Mr. Magoo. I would have taken a different approach, although I have little confidence in the seriousness of anything coming out the federal government at the moment.

I would bet a lot of money that I’ve already talked to many more people, with much more personally at stake, with much more widely varying opinions about school safety, than the sheriff has. I think my input would have been useful for Mr. Magoo to hear. It was a missed opportunity.

There are good faith compromises to make. Let’s make them.

As part of a grand, consensus-building, good faith compromise, I can actually support a local-option Guardian program. I won’t vote to impose it in Polk schools. I think it’s an unsound idea, operationally and morally, that will kill kids over time at scale; but other people don’t think that. And it’s impossible to know with certainty. (You can see my reasoning below from previous installments of this series.)

Counties like Columbia and Putnam, etc. may have greater consensus in favor. I’m not keen to stand in their way, although I would have waited to see which counties want to do it before budgeting for it. U.S. Senate Candidate Rick Scott should veto the current Guardian funding, which is absurdly over-appropriated. Polk Superintendent Jackie Byrd agrees.

In return for local-option Guardian support and funding, I want law enforcement to know who owns AR-15s, the mass shooter weapon of choice, in my county. I would like weapons of mass death regulated with roughly the same care as Desi, my 15-pound Beagle/Terrier mix.

This is Desi.

This is an AR-15.


Right now, the Polk Sheriff’s Office, like the Florida Legislature, imposes far, far more policing and monitoring on Desi than an AR-15. I’m totally serious. No snark. There is a fully developed armed infrastructure of state enforcement designed to protect you from Desi. We literally call it “Animal Control.” I know firsthand how appropriately thorough and coercive it is, as I will explain in the next installment.

Treating AR-15s with comparable public safety scrutiny to Desi makes for a reasonable compromise, I believe. It’s a compromise I am happy to explain repeatedly and directly to constituents. I’m happy to take any hard votes it entails. And then I’ll happily answer to voters for it. That’s how a representative democracy is supposed to work. I think I read that in a book somewhere. Perhaps a mandated civics class.

It’s time we lived it a little. It’s time we actually embraced the true meaning of comprehensive and compromise.

Previous installments below:

We must end the Test-and-Die era, part 1: You can’t untangle mass school shootings from school grades and stress-based education

We must end the Test-and-Die era, part 2: “Why do people think I’m a school shooter? What have I done to deserve this.”

End the Test-and-Die era, part 3: the prime operational reasons for not arming teachers

End the Test and Die Era, part 4: of (not) arming teachers and the moral obligations of representation in a democracy



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