Who should have guns on government-owned property?
Gun possession by county and school board staff was a topic of discussion at the April 25 meeting of the Okeechobee County Commission.
Sheriff Noel Stephen reported that the first class of school Guardians graduated two weeks ago. Guardians are school employees who are allowed to concealed carry guns at local public schools. He said the instructors were very impressed with the dedication of the Guardians and how seriously they took the training program.
“The instructors are used to teaching cops. This was their first experience teaching educators,” he said. He added that the instructors had to stay sharp because the Guardians quickly absorbed the material. The instructors had never been asked so many questions, he added.
“The proficiency the Guardians showed on the range was astonishing,” the sheriff said.
For security reasons, the sheriff declined to share just how many school employees have completed the Guardian program. Classroom teachers are excluded from the program unless they are former military or former law enforcement.
In other business, County Administrator Robbie Chartier informed the commissioners about a change the county’s personnel policy in regard to weapons in the workplace. The change brings the county into compliance with the state rules.
The new policy states: Consistent with applicable Florida law, including Section 790.251 of the Florida Statutes, employees, contractors, volunteers, or other individuals doing business with the county may not carry or otherwise possess a weapon or firearm while at work, on duty, or on county property, even if the person possesses a license to carry such firearm or weapon. Provided, however, that a legally owned firearm may be kept securely locked and out of sight within a private vehicle in a parking lot so long as the individual and the vehicle are lawfully on the premises; the employee, contractor, or volunteer has a license to carry the concealed firearm; the possession of the firearm is not for an unlawful purpose; and the firearm is never exhibited on county property for any reason other than a lawful defensive purpose. Employees who violate this policy are subject to disciplinary action, up to and including discharge. This policy does not apply to employees who are expressly required or authorized to carry a weapon or firearm as part of his or her express job responsibilities or who have obtained express authorization from the county administrator.”
Commissioners David Hazellief, Byrant Culpepper and Brad Goodbread objected to the policy. “The Constitution gives us the right to have the guns,” said Commissioner Hazellief. “I certainly can’t vote against something the Constitution gives us the right to do.”
“This has already been passed by the state,” pointed out Mrs. Chartier. “It was not a matter for the county commissioners to vote on.”
Commissioner Hazellief said he objected to the provision under this policy that only those who have concealed carry permits may have guns in their vehicles on county property.
“If you look in the back seat of my truck, you will see mine, and it’s not concealed,” he said.
“If I can ride down the road with a gun in my car, and that’s accepted that it’s legal, I have an issue with this policy,” said Commissioner Culpepper.
Commissioner Goodbread pointed out that an employee “has to go to and from work as well and has the right to protect himself.”
In other business at the April 25 meeting, the commissioners approved a request from the sheriff to spend $15,135 from the reserves in the Law Enforcement Trust Fund for the purchase of new surveillance equipment for Narcotics Task Force.
The sheriff said they need to upgrade their surveillance equipment in order to “keep up with the bad guys.”