Guns in Schools: The Nuanced View From ‘Trump Country’

Few messages are more alarming to the parent of a schoolchild than a “lockdown” alert from a school. When an incident near a small Catholic school in Gainesville, Fl. triggered that alert it reinforced some local views that having weapons available in schools made sense. But not everyone in this conservative pro-Trump stronghold agrees.

Art work at Saint Patrick’s Interparish school. Photo by Megan Hadley

“Personally, with the way things are going now, I think teachers should be allowed to have protection,” said Lady L, the mother of an eight-year-old boy at Saint Patrick Interparish school in Gainesville, Fl., and a firm supporter of allowing teachers to carry guns in schools.

Saint Patrick’s, a small Catholic grade school, was on lockdown last Wednesday, due to an attempted armed robbery at a bank just down the street.

Fearful for her child’s life, Lady L (who asked that her real name be withheld) texted the school for permission to come and pick up her child, but he was not allowed to leave.

“I didn’t know what to think,” she told The Crime Report.

While gun control remains a widely polarized issue nationally, with President Donald Trump voicing his support for guns in schools at the National Rifle Association Convention last Friday, and gun control advocates making clear their fierce opposition to the idea, those closest to the problem have a much more nuanced reaction.  

Here in the so-called Florida “Panhandle,” in the state’s northwest corner, where conservative voters helped Trump win the state in 2016,  gun ownership is common. But the mood in this part of “Trump Country”  reflects both fear and anxiety.

Saint Patrick Parish. Photo by Megan Hadley

As we stood on the church steps, Lady L described the realities of what she called the “natural world,” a world where humans need to protect themselves, especially in present times, because people are “doing strange things.”

“You never know. People are bringing guns in churches these days and when you leave the house you don’t know if you’re coming back home,” she said.

Richard Shalack, a local gun shop owner in Gainesville, carries not one, but two guns on him at all times.

Shalack agreed that teachers have a right to defend themselves in the school, and if they carry a concealed weapons permit, they should be allowed a gun in the classroom to protect themselves and their students against a possible shooter.

“It’s common sense” he told me. “You are responsible for your own protection. You are responsible for your own safety.”

Maurice Moore, who retired after teaching school  in Florida for 35 years, would have brought his gun to class if it were an option.

Moore also spent time in the air force, and said that his training made him qualified to handle a gun in the classroom.

“I think it should be open to teachers who want to do it and who are qualified.” If they are military personal, such as myself, who know about weapons and guns, I would be comfortable with it, he said.

Since the mass shooting in a Parkland, FL high school that left 17 dead and 17 injured, and prompted walkouts and rallies across the country, research shows a large uptick in school-based violent incidents.

Data from the Educator’s School Safety Network found more than 70 violent incidents in schools each day, prompting lockdowns and other safety measures.

Although one consequence is that 57 percent of young people surveyed  report being fearful in their schools, according to a report released by the Center for American Progress, others contend that arming teachers or school resource officers will address those fears.

Shalack- owner of Gainesville Guns-  used the example of the gym coach at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who died to support his argument.

Richard Shalack, owner of Gainesville Guns, shows some of his wares. Photo by Megan Hadley

The gym coach used his body as a shield to protect his students, and consequently was shot down.

If he had a concealed weapon, instead of having a 17 loss that day, it could’ve been a two-loss,” he said. 

Currentlyat least 15 states already arm teachers, including Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington and, as of this March, Florida.

And now Louisiana is considering gun legislation that would allow visitors with concealed weapon permits to carry their guns on school and college campuses.

See also: Louisiana is Latest State to Consider Allowing Guns in Schools.

While arming teachers is one facet of the gun control debate, whether or not mentally ill individuals should be allowed to purchase a gun remains unsettled.

Shalack, a firearms dealer for 33 years, said that he “never would have sold a gun to the kid that shot up Parkland” because he “weeds out the crazies” before selling them guns.

Signs in Shalack’s store make his political sympathies clear. Photo by Megan Hadley

Not wanting to end up in court with a lawsuit against him, Mr. Shalack only sells guns to individuals with a concealed weapons permit, above the age of 21, after having what he describes as an in-depth conversation with them.

He keeps his guns in the back, and refuses to sell any firearms to individuals who are “too emotional” or “acting weird.”

In the state of Florida, it is not required to have a license or permit to purchase a gun, leaving the sale of firearms to the discretion of firearm dealers. 

Yet on a federal level, unlicensed sellers are exempt from having to perform any background check before selling a firearm, a loophole that The Giffords Law Center calls particularly dangerous.

But according to the principal of a small grade school in Gainesville, FL, who asked to remain anonymous, the answer to gun control is to simply stop making firearms.

More guns means more killing, he said.

“What do we need guns for?” he asked. “Guns are designed to kill people. If you don’t own a gun then I don’t need to gun.”

Logistically, he noted that the states would waste money training and equipping teachers with guns, and that money could be spent elsewhere.

He said that schools need better mental health care for students, not more guns.

The school guidance counselor, who asked to remain anonymous as well, also cited mental health as the determining factor for reducing school violence.

She pointed to the need for changing the stigma associated with mental illness.

“A huge part of the solution is increase in mental health funding- that’s what I see with my kids,” she said.

But as state legislators across the country move towards arming teachers with guns, students, particularly in low-income, minority communities, could be in greater danger than their white, wealthier counterparts, one expert told TCR. 

Hailey Nolasco

Photo of Hailey Nolasco

Hailey Nolasco from the Mayor’s Office to Prevent Gun Violence in New York City painted a grim picture of  the risks when a new teacher comes to work in a school in an unfamiliar and violent neighborhood. If the teacher were armed, the gun might be used in response to a perceived threat from a student, she said. 

Likewise, the teachers are also in danger: a violent student could disarm the teacher and take the gun, she mentioned. 

For Nolasco, guns in schools are “ just the wrong way to go” because there is a sense that law enforcement is “everywhere.”

She related schools where teachers carry guns and students have to walk through metal detectors to prison, which is certainly not a “conducive learning environment.”

Instead, she pointed to a model used in New York City’s Mayor’s office called the ‘cure violence model’ which aims to reduce violence in the schools. While the ‘cure violence model’ is an international approach to reducing harm, NYC has created a unique subset called ‘crisis management in the schools’.

Now, a trained official, someone who has experience with gun violence, possibly someone who has been in prison for gun use, goes into the schools and mediates dangerous situations.

“Instead of relying on law enforcement, it’s wholistic approach where young people can relate to people who have had similar experiences.” Nolasco said.

And now, New York is the safest it’s ever been, she concluded.

Megan Hadley is a staff reporter for The Crime Report.


After Years of Failures, FL Gets Juvenile Justice Reforms

A newly approved state Department of Juvenile Justice budget includes money for building, maintenance and program improvements, as well as a 10 percent across-the-board pay raise for lockup and probation officers.

For the first time in a decade, Florida juvenile detention and probation officers will see a bump in their salaries — an increase in the state budget that is part of a series of juvenile justice reforms passed by the Legislature this month, reports the Miami Herald. The 10 percent across-the-board pay raise for lockup and probation officers was included in the Department of Juvenile Justice’s $589.4 million 2019 spending plan, which was signed by Gov. Rick Scott last week. The pay raise was the signature item in a handful of budget requests by DJJ following a Miami Herald investigation, called Fight Club, into agency failures. The budget includes $2 million in “retention bonuses” for direct-care staffers at privately run juvenile programs, where the pay can start under $20,000, in addition to the raises for state employees.

The budget measures include $8 million for raises for all detention and probation officers, together with $2 million in onetime bonuses for direct-care workers at the state’s 53 privately run residential centers; $1 million for new video surveillance equipment; $5.3 million to improve building maintenance and plumbing within the state’s 21 regional detention centers; $6.1 million to expand capacity by 60 beds; and $9.1 million to expand agency prevention and early intervention programs designed to keep troubled kids out of the juvenile justice system.


Trump Seeks Shutdown of New School Safety Studies

Two days before the Parkland, Fl., school shooting, the Office of Management and Budget asked Congress to shut down a $50 million federal program funding research on school safety. Criminologists warn ending the program would “detract from efforts to reduce/avoid future school shootings and violence.”

After the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Connecticut at the end of 2012, Congress scrambled to do something in response to the nation’s worst school shooting.

Lacking agreement on gun control measures, lawmakers did what they do best in such situations: spend money on studying the problem.

Thus was born the Comprehensive School Safety Initiative (CSSI), which aimed at throwing a large pot of federal funds to researchers to examine just about every aspect of what might lead people to commit violence against students of all ages.

The $75 million annually awarded to the U.S. Justice Department’s National Institute of Justice (NIJ) was an especially large sum for a single crime problem, more than the agency normally spends on researching every other crime issue combined. (The appropriation dropped to about $50 million this year.)

In a case of bad timing, the Trump administration on Feb. 12 asked Congress to bring the program to a halt.

The Office of Management and Budget had no way of knowing that only two days later, a teenage gunman would enter a Florida high school from which he had been expelled and kill 17 students and staff members, an event that like the Newtown, Ct., shooting more than five years earlier would start a new scramble in Congress and elsewhere to find ways of preventing a repeat episode.

The question now is whether Congress will pay attention to one of the latest Trump budget-cutting moves, which was buried at the bottom of page 719 of the lengthy spending plan sent to Capitol Hill.

The answer may not be as simple as it may seem at first glance.

That is because some insiders believe it was questionable for Congress to throw so much money at one crime and safety question and expect quick results.

What has happened is that hardly any of the research commissioned as a result of Congress’ 2013 spending action has been completed. That is not surprising, given that major research projects in criminal justice and many other fields of study take several years to complete.

That fact led officials of the Trump-led Justice Department to seek a pause in the school safety research.

Asked to comment on the budget request, which was not highlighted when the DOJ budget was released, the department’s Office of Justice Programs, which includes NIJ, noted that school safety research had received a total of $275 million in the last three fiscal years but that “this program was not intended to be a permanent funding stream.”

The agency added that, “The results of currently funded projects will continue to provide evidence about what works (and what does not) in keeping our schools safe and to inform future resource decisions. Almost all CSSI-funded projects are still active and final reports have not yet been published.”

Nearly a year ago, in its first budget message to Congress, the Trump White House sought to cut back but not eliminate the school safety research program. Lawmakers rejected the request and kept it going with about $50 million.

As The Crime Report reported last spring, NIJ described at the time the results of a few studies that had been completed. In one, the Rand Corp. made several recommendations, such as that “technology developers should turn their focus to the general area of communications, including devising low-cost ways to allow teachers to have direct, layered, two-way communication with a central command and control system.”

NIJ lists the ongoing school safety research on its website, at least some of which could provide information relating to the kind of shooting that hit Parkland, Fl., this month.

For example, a grant was given to John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City to do several things, such as providing “a comprehensive understanding of the perpetrators of school shootings and test causal factors to assess if mass and non-mass shootings are comparable.”

Researcher Joshua Freilich said his work is not yet finished. He notes that because school crime encompasses disparate activities such as non-school related incidents such as a drug deal gone bad, workplace violence, suicide, and the intentional targeting of students and employees as happened in Florida, the John Jay project will provide “a typology of event types and their prevalence so as to provide policy makers an accurate assessment of the nature of the phenomenon.”

Examples of grants under the program last year include about $7 million to the Leidos Innovations Corporation of suburban Washington, D.C., to operate a “National Criminal Justice Technology Resource Center,” and another $7 million to the Rand Corp., with the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and the Nebraska Department of Education “to scale-up the Good Behavior Game (GBG),” described as “an evidence-based classroom behavior management approach emphasizing positive reinforcement.”

One expert with an insight into the program is Greg Ridgeway of the University of Pennsylvania’s criminology department, who was acting NIJ director when CSSI began.

Ridgeway says that the initial $75 million provided by Congress may have been an “overinvestment” and that eliminating the program now “would undercut the progress.”

A better way to fund such research, he suggests, would be a smaller but steadier amount each year. He gave the example of research on violence against women, which has received about $4 million annually for more than two decades.

“That modest but sustained investment has resulted in large body of research, a cadre of researchers and students studying the problem, a comprehensive understanding of the issues, and findings on what works,” he says.

Applying that idea to schools, he says that reducing the funding to about $10 million a year for seven more years would save a lot of money “while still keeping the research community engaged in figuring out what works in school safety.”

Officers of the Crime and Justice Research Alliance, which represents two major criminology organizations, issued a statement Monday saying in part, “We were surprised and troubled to see that the President’s FY 2019 Budget Request–released just two days before the Parkland shooting–did not request a continuation of this funding.”

The group’s leaders added that, “Termination of the Comprehensive School Safety Initiative would result in less research and knowledge to improve school safety in our public schools, and detract from efforts to reduce/avoid future school shootings and violence.” They noted that “one year of funding for CSSI research projects represents approximately three tenths of one percent of the cost of the proposed $25 billion US/Mexico border wall.”

Not everyone will support a liberally funded school crime research program. Kenneth Trump, a Cleveland-based school safety advocate (who is not related to the president) told The Crime Report that the federal program should be continued “but not to the tune of the millions and millions that the Obama administration put into it.”

Kenneth Trump believes that federal funding on school safety “needs to be balanced out with programs putting resources directly into local schools. ”

It is too early to say what will happen to the school safety research program now, but it is a fair bet that after the Florida school shooting, Congress will again spurn the Trump administration and keep it going, albeit at a more modest level.

Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington bureau chief of The Crime Report. He welcomes readers’ comments.


The 1973 Disappearance of Landon Lee Deriggi

On July 27, 1973, 13-year-old Landon Lee Deriggi left his Miami Shores, Florida home and never returned. About the Case Landon Lee Deriggi was born four weeks premature at North Shore Medical Center in Miami on October 31, 1959. He was considered highly intelligent after scoring a 160 on an IQ test a few years later. […]

The post The 1973 Disappearance of Landon Lee Deriggi appeared first on True Crime Diva.

On July 27, 1973, 13-year-old Landon Lee Deriggi left his Miami Shores, Florida home and never returned. About the Case Landon Lee Deriggi was born four weeks premature at North Shore Medical Center in Miami on October 31, 1959. He was considered highly intelligent after scoring a 160 on an IQ test a few years later. […]

The post The 1973 Disappearance of Landon Lee Deriggi appeared first on True Crime Diva.


Though Still Rare, a Spate of Women Chiefs Hired in Florida

Five South Florida cities have hired female police chiefs in the past 18 months, reflecting a national trend. Gender parity is still a distant goal: Just 16 of the 300-plus top cops in Florida are women.

Mirroring a national trend, five South Florida cities have hired female police chiefs in the past 18 months, reports the Sun Sentinel. Women are now top cops in Hallandale Beach, Lauderhill, West Palm Beach, Miami Gardens, Medley, Boynton Beach and El Portal. “It’s still a male-dominated profession, but I think women have made enormous strides, and I think you’re seeing a culmination of two decades worth of women rising up in their departments,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum. It typically takes up to 20 years for law enforcement officers to move up the ranks to police chief, he said.

Even with the recent increase, fewer than 2 percent of women make it to top brass positions, experts say. Just 16 women lead Florida’s 300-plus police departments. Female police officers were first allowed to patrol streets and respond to emergencies in the 1960s, historians say. Florida saw it’s first female police chief in Minneola, west of Orlando, in 1979 when Sue Hogan was sworn in. Last year, her 25-year-old granddaughter began following in her footsteps and became a police officer in Clermont.


Missing in May Over 3 Decades Ago: Andrea Darlene Allen, Deborah Kim Green and Robyn Melanie Adler

Three women -Andrea Darlene Allen, Deborah Kim Green, and Robyn Melanie Adler – disappeared from the same area in May of 1982 and 1983 in separate cases. Their vehicles were found abandoned afterwards and no one has seen any of the girls since. Could these three cases be related? Andrea Darlene Allen Andrea Darlene Allen, […]

The post Missing in May Over 3 Decades Ago: Andrea Darlene Allen, Deborah Kim Green and Robyn Melanie Adler appeared first on True Crime Diva.

Three women -Andrea Darlene Allen, Deborah Kim Green, and Robyn Melanie Adler – disappeared from the same area in May of 1982 and 1983 in separate cases. Their vehicles were found abandoned afterwards and no one has seen any of the girls since. Could these three cases be related? Andrea Darlene Allen Andrea Darlene Allen, […]

The post Missing in May Over 3 Decades Ago: Andrea Darlene Allen, Deborah Kim Green and Robyn Melanie Adler appeared first on True Crime Diva.


Walking While Black: Analysis Finds Racial Slant in FL Tickets

African Americans got 55 percent of all tickets issued for pedestrian violations in Jacksonville over the past five years. Nearly all such tickets were written in the city’s poorest sections. “There is not an active effort to be in black neighborhoods writing pedestrian tickets,” says the local sheriff.

ProPublica and the Florida Times-Union report that blacks received 55 percent of all pedestrian tickets issued over the past five years in Jacksonville, Fla., where African Americans account for 29 percent of the population. Almost all of the tickets, typically costing $65, were issued in the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Blacks were nearly three times as likely as whites to be ticketed for a pedestrian violation. And residents of the city’s three poorest zip codes were about six times as likely to receive a pedestrian citation as those living in the city’s other, more affluent 34 zip codes. Seventy-eight percent of all tickets written for “walking in the roadway where sidewalks are provided” were issued to blacks. And blacks got 68 percent of tickets issued for “failing to cross the road at a right angle or shortest route.”

Sheriff Mike Williams said, “Let me tell you this: There is not an active effort to be in black neighborhoods writing pedestrian tickets.” The sheriff’s department’s second-in-command, Patrick Ivey, said any racial disparities could only be explained by the fact that blacks were simply violating the statutes more often than others in Jacksonville. Ivey said stopping people for pedestrian violations as a means for establishing probable cause to search them was also fully justified. “Shame on him that gives me a legal reason to stop him,” Ivey said.


FL Tech Firm, Lawyers Lock Horns Over Traffic Ticket Biz

TIKD alleges in a lawsuit that it is being blocked from consulting on traffic-ticket cases by the Florida Bar Association and The Ticket Clinic, a law practice with 28 offices in Florida. Its legal foes counter that TIKD is practicing law without a license.

A Florida tech startup that allows drivers to fight their traffic tickets from their smartphones says the Florida Bar and The Ticket Clinic are conspiring to drive it out of business, reports the Miami Herald. The startup, TIKD, has taken its fight to federal court, filing suit against both the Florida Bar Association and The Ticket Clinic, a private ticket-defense law firm. Earlier this year, TIKD launched its tech-enabled service and says it has served more than 5,000 people. TIKD is not a law firm, but instead uses independent lawyers to resolve the tickets at a cost that is 15 to 20 percent less than the ticket fee. Since then, founder and CEO Christopher Riley said, The Ticket Clinic has been thwarting its efforts to build a business at every turn.

The Ticket Clinic has filed complaints with the Florida Bar, claiming that TIKD is practicing law without a license, and has filed grievances against lawyers who have represented a TIKD customer. The stakes are high: The Ticket Clinic has 28 offices in Florida and 15 in California, and its 40 full-time attorneys have resolved more than 5 million cases. TIKD alleges in its lawsuit that the Florida Bar has abetted the conflict by dragging out an investigation for 10 months. It says the bar association has “engaged in a concerted effort to exclude TIKD…by enabling and reinforcing the Ticket Clinic’s anti-competitive propaganda campaign.”


FL Court: Cops Protected Under ‘Stand Your Ground’ Law

The case centers on whether a Broward County sheriff’s deputy can be prosecuted in the 2013 fatal shooting of a man who was carrying a realistic-looking air rifle.

A Florida appeals court ruled Wednesday that police officers are entitled to the same immunity under the state’s “stand your ground” law as private citizens, reports the Sun Sentinel. Earlier, another appeals court reached the opposite conclusion, and the conflict likely is headed to the Florida Supreme Court. The case involves Broward County Sheriff’s Deputy Peter Peraza, who was charged with manslaughter in the July 31, 2013, shooting death of Jermaine McBean, 33, a computer engineer who was walking home after having just purchased a realistic-looking air rifle at a pawn shop.

Peraza was one of several deputies who responded to reports of an armed man. He opened fire when McBean failed to follow orders to put the weapon down. Peraza testified that he fired his gun when McBean appeared to begin raising the weapon as if to fire it. Family members said McBean likely did not hear the deputies’ orders because he was listening to music through earbuds at the time. Peraza was the first officer in 35 years charged in an on-duty fatal shooting in Broward County.


FL, KY to Pay Legal Fees in Gun, Gay Marriage Fights

Florida has agreed to pay $1.1 million in legal fees for the failed 2011 “Docs vs. Glocks” law, which barred doctors from talking to patients about gun ownership. And a federal judge in Kentucky has awarded $223,000 in fees to attorneys for same-sex couples who were denied marriage licenses in 2015 by Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis.

Florida has agreed to pay $1.1 million in legal fees to lawyers who sued the state over a 2011 law that barred doctors from talking to patients about gun ownership, reports the New York Times. The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence said Florida Gov. Rick Scott had approved the reimbursement to lawyers who represented doctors and medical organizations in the case, known as “Docs v. Glocks.” Scott and the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature pushed the restrictions through, becoming the first state to try to restrict the First Amendment rights of doctors to discuss guns and gun safety with their patients. In February, a federal appeals court overturned the law, siding with medical providers over the state’s powerful gun lobby.

Meanwhile, a federal judge in Kentucky has awarded $223,000 in fees to attorneys for same-sex couples who were denied marriage licenses in 2015 by Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, reports the Louisville Courier-Journal. U.S. District Judge David Bunning ordered the state to pay the fees, rather than Davis or Rowan County. The ACLU of Kentucky hailed the ruling, saying it should serve as a reminder to public officials in Kentucky of the cost of violating civil liberties.