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An Editorial Opinion: Florida's Blackboard Jungle

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In the wake of several widely publicized shootings in Florida schools and moves by school officials there to use metal detectors to stem the flow of weapons (see Education Week, March 16, 1988), some Florida educators have asked legislators to consider changing the state's controversial new handgun law, which substantially eased restrictions on ownership. Following is a March 11 editorial on the subject from The Orlando Sentinal. Reprinted with permission.

So you wanna be somebody, huh, kid? Why not pack a piece? Why, its the latest fad in Florida schools.

And does that surprise anybody? After all, it's now frightfully easy for adults to buy handguns--even carry them concealed. Last year, the Legislature, with Gov. Bob Martinez's blessing, took away local control over gun laws.

That was a silly mistake.

Among other things, the action sent a message that handguns are cool--something young people naturally pick up on. Carrying weapons legally has gotten a lot easier. Consider: Under a lax new law, nearly 100,000 adults have sought applications for permission to carry a concealed handgun. Almost a fifth of them already received their permits.

To no one's surprise, kids are taking pistols from their homes or acquiring stolen ones on the street. Then they show up with these killers in class. Just last month an assistant principal of a Pinellas County high school died a few days after a 15-year-old student shot him and another administrator, who is recovering.

Yes, some districts were having problems before with a few teen-agers toting weapons. But what's scary now, in the wake of relaxed gun laws, is the proliferation of pistols in middle and high schools.

In other words, the problem isn't confined to inner-city neighborhoods where Saturday Night Specials are prevalent or to rural areas where hunting weapons are common. It is permeating all neighborhoods and involves kids with good grades as well as those with failing marks.

In Orange County, for example, four of the nine students expelled last year for carrying guns were from schools in middle-class neighborhoods. So far this year 11 students have been caught carrying guns. Nine were from "quiet'' suburban schools.

In Volusia County, 11 students have been caught with guns this school year--up from only two instances the year before. This dramatic increase prompted the county school board to pass an emergency regulation this week that calls for principals to recommend expulsion for any student caught carrying a gun.

Duval County has taken an even tougher stance. There, school officials are using metal detectors on students--an action other school systems are considering. Why such a drastic tactic? Because the number of students caught with guns in Duval has almost tripled in two years: from 23 in 1985 to 63 last year.

Schools are doing what they can to rid themselves of guns. But this ugly phenomenon isn't likely to go away unless the Legislature does something to challenge the notion that carrying guns is okay.

At the very least, legislators should give back control of gun laws to local governments, which were tougher on issuing concealed-weapons permits. That's one way to curb a deadly plague of pistols.

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