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Poll: Floridians Sharply Divided On Arming School Teachers

Protesters after the Parkland school shootings
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

A series of polls from the St. Leo University Polling Institute shows that Floridians are deeply divided on some of the major issues that the state will face in the upcoming year. That sharp divide is reflected on how those polled feel about arming school teachers.

The poll shows half of those who responded oppose allowing teaches to carry weapons in classrooms. About 42 percent are in favor of the Florida law that allows classroom teachers to carry guns — if the teachers volunteer to do so.

Polling Institute Director Frank Orlando says respondents living in South Florida are much more against it, but support rises substantially in the Panhandle and rural areas.

"So I don't think it's too surprising to see this polarization on this question," he said, "because people have strong opinions on it. It's clear that there's a geographic and political split on this question."

South Florida's opposition to guns in schools isn't entirely unexpected, due to the preponderance Democrats there, who are more open to gun control. But it's also where the Parkland school shooting took place, so Orlando says polling data confirms they want other options.

"I think that might be because perhaps the people close to Parkland feel that while they do want more options to stop things like that from happening," he said, "that this isn't one of the options that they're in favor of."

Orlando says the only area of North Florida where a majority of those polled oppose arming teachers is Duval County. Jacksonville-area schools have come out against the proposal.

Here's more detail from the polling institute:

On a more regional basis, however, some clearer majority preferences emerged. For instance, survey respondents from 16 counties in the northwest part of the state show that 60 percent strongly or somewhat support allowing trained classroom teachers to carry firearms. That area (designated Florida’s Northwest District by the Florida Association of City Clerks) includes Bay County, home to Panama City in the Florida Panhandle, which is one of the seven school districts to move ahead with the option of offering training to teachers.

In the 17-county Northeast District, though, only 48 percent of respondents overall strongly or somewhat support the allowing teachers to carry firearms in the classroom. That result may be influenced by the presence of Duval County, home to the city of Jacksonville; Duval County schools do not support arming teachers. Other nearby rural counties in the same geographic district said they were proceeding with the firearms training program for teachers earlier this year: Gilchrist, Lafayette, Putnam, and Suwannee.

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Steve Newborn is WUSF's assistant news director as well as a reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.