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ECSD looks to close loophole that lets some students bring guns to campus

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The Escambia County School Board is looking to close a “loophole” that allows adult students to bring guns onto school campuses.

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Board members are expected to discuss the policy change next week at their next regularly scheduled meeting set for Tuesday night.

The board’s discussion will be in response to an incident that occurred at Tate High School last month when an AR-15 rifle was found inside an 18-year-old student’s vehicle in the school’s parking lot.

Law enforcement was called to the scene, but the student was not immediately arrested due to a Florida statute stating citizens over the age of 18 are permitted to bring firearms onto school campuses “if the firearm or other weapon is securely encased or is otherwise not readily accessible for immediate use.”

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The 18-year-old involved in the Tate incident had the AR-15 securely enclosed in his vehicle and therefore could not be arrested on mere possession of the firearm.

In the weeks since the incident, the statute has become a major cause of concern for some district administrators.

Escambia County School Board Chairman Kevin Adams called the law a “loophole” that he and other board members had not been aware of until the Tate High School incident.

Escambia County Superintendent Tim Smith said the statute “rarely comes into play for us in most situations, but it did in this situation.”

“There is, associated with that statute, the ability for a school district to implement a waiver so that that law can be addressed and basically modified on a school campus to keep weapons off campus,” Smith said.

According to Florida statute, “school districts may adopt written and published policies that waive” the right of people bringing secured guns onto school premises.

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Escambia County Sheriff Chip Simmons told the News Journal that he would support an adoption of such a written policy.

“I would support a rule that would prohibit students from bringing guns to school. I would not support one that would infringe upon an employee’s statutory right to do what is within statute,” Simmons said.

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Both Smith and Adams confirmed to the News Journal that the school board plans to begin its initial discussions about adopting a policy disallowing students from bringing guns onto campuses — whether secured, in a vehicle or otherwise — at the board’s next meeting.

According to Adams, the school board’s first order of business will be to pass a temporary, 90-day emergency order limiting the legal ability for citizens to bring guns to schools.

The temporary order will provide the board time to work out the details of a more permanent rule.

Balancing safety with the Second Amendment

However, like Simmons, Adams said he was adamant in his stance that any future, permanent rule limiting guns on campuses should be aimed at students and should not affect the rights of others such as school staff members. 

“My concern is to ensure the safety of our children but also respect the Second Amendment rights that citizens have,” Adams said. “Remember, this will be a temporary policy just to stop something from happening like it happened before.

“This is a temporary measure, but when we get into discussing the law and the permanent solution then it’s going to be much broader, because I’m actually a Second Amendment rights supporter, an NRA member and the whole bit,” he added. “I don’t want people who are law abiding citizens to kind of get dragged into something.”

Although he was not immediately taken into custody, the 18-year-old student was later arrested and charged with grand theft of a firearm after an ECSO investigation determined that the AR-15 inside his vehicle had been stolen, according to an arrest report.

The report added another second suspect, a 16-year-old, was also arrested and charged in connection to the incident.

Colin Warren-Hicks can be reached at colinwarrenhicks@pnj.com or 850-435-8680.



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