Parents at fault when students take guns to school, Duval County board member says

At least 12 times in the past school year, Duval students were caught with guns at school and half those weapons had belonged to a parent, a relative or, in one case, a girlfriend’s parent, district data show.

The latest incident didn’t make that list of firearm arrests.

It involved a first-grader at Neptune Beach who last month brought a gun magazine loaded with bullets to school. The official school letter to parents called it a “prohibited” item.

That was not enough for Celeste Dodrill, with two children attending that suburban elementary school. She began contacting school officials and her school board representative, Scott Shine, to find out what the district can or should do to remind parents to lock away their guns and their ammunition.

The schools can start, she said, by being more forthcoming when guns are found at schools and not calling them “prohibited items,” Dodrill said.

“Typically schools do that because they don’t want people to be hysterical, but people should be hysterical,” she said.

“Their hair should be on fire. This is outrageous. It all boils down to kids getting guns from their homes. … It’s so easy to fix.”

Shine agrees. He said Friday that often the blame and suspicion are on the wrong person in such cases. Instead of only looking at the child who brings a gun to school, officials should look at the adults in that child’s life when the gun comes from home.

“These are not kids who went out looking for a gun to do something,” Shine said. “These are kids who found a gun or it came to them. … People are all worked up about guns in schools but, quite frankly, parents are just leaving their guns laying around.”

In at least three of the gun arrest cases in Duval schools, children or teens brought their parents’ weapons from home.

Add to that last August, when a Mandarin High 18-year-old brought his girlfriend’s father’s gun to school; and last February, when a 13-year old Chaffee Trail Elementary student took his grandmother’s semi-automatic to school; and last April, when a 14-year-old Westview K-8 student took a gun belonging to his father’s friend to school.

“What if we can get parents to keep their guns locked up? Half the guns would be gone from schools. That’s an opportunity to me,” Shine said.

Shine sits in on many Duval School Board expulsion hearings, he said, but rarely do parents admit they left a gun unsecured. Most parents are silent about how their child accessed their gun.

“I’m encouraging the district (police) to start charging the parents,” Shine said. “They can file a report and ask (the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office) to make the charge.”

Florida law makes it illegal to leave a gun unsecured and available to minors, said Shine, who taught gun safety classes for eight years. Depending on the circumstances, parents could be charged with a misdemeanor or worse.

In some of the Duval cases, it was unknown where the guns came from and several weapons were listed as not reported stolen. Often students said they found the weapon or a friend gave it to them, Shine said.

“One kid said he found it under a bleacher and I believe him,” Shine said.

“Kids are making mistakes, doing things that would be indicative of being immature. They’re kids. … The truth is, in almost all these cases, adults are leaving firearms accessible.”

There were two cases involving adults with guns: In September, a 35-year-old man trespassed on Terry Parker High’s property armed with a fully automatic pistol. In December, a former Baldwin Middle-High basketball coach was arrested after using his gun to illustrate how athletes’ performances can be affected by stress.

Also not listed in Duval’s arrest lists were the two guns students had in their cars at a private school this year and the gun found in a backpack at a charter school. In January, an 8-year-old girl found a gun, but didn’t touch it, on the road near a school in Atlantic Beach.

“We are fortunate in that we have not had a shooting within our school system,” Shine said.

“Most of the firearms we find are due to the fact that a student had the courage to speak up and let an educator know about the weapon. These young people … are unsung heroes, whose actions could have saved lives.”

But that’s not enough. Shine said although Duval teaches gun safety to second-graders through the NRA-backed Eddie the Eagle program, more needs to be directed at older kids and parents to school them on firearm safety.

Homicide and suicide are leading causes of death for children ages 10 through 24, behind unintentional injury, Shine said. Police agencies and schools have to more strongly convey to parents the need to lock up weapons and keep ammunition separate from guns.

“We don’t let our 12-year-old drive cars; we don’t let them smoke or drink,” Shine said. “What’s wrong with these adults and parents that they’re not keeping these firearms locked up?”

It’s not just an inner-city problem, Dodrill added. Many of Duval’s cases occurred in suburban neighborhood schools.

“It’s being in denial. You don’t want to think about it happening here,” she said. “I’m seeing too much of this stuff going on and … that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”