The consequences just got tougher for Florida students who threaten to shoot up a school.
The Anti-Terroristic Threat and Public Servant Protection Law. The law, which went into effect Oct. 1, makes false reports about using firearms in a violent manner a second-degree felony. Bomb threats have carried a second-degree felony, but only charges of “disrupting a school function”—a second-degree misdemeanor — could have been brought against someone making a gun threat.
The law also makes it a first-degree misdemeanor to threaten with death or serious harm a law enforcement officer, state attorney or assistant state attorney, firefighter, judge, elected official or any of their family members.
In the Pasco County School District, there already have been three incidents of students making gun threats through the first six weeks of the 2016-2017 school year.
Pasco County Superintendent Kurt Browning described such threats — regardless of the degree of seriousness — as being “incredibly disruptive” to the community.
“When someone makes what they consider a joke to shoot up the school, people panic,” Browning said during a Sept. 30 press conference. “I’ve pleaded with students, and I’ve asked their parents to plead with them, to think before posting an idle threat on social media, or to make any kind of verbal threat to carry out a shooting at any of our schools.”
He added: “When kids and their parents see these things, the fears spread quickly.”
Such threats, Browning said, often cause Pasco schools to become “half-empty” the following day.
“Students and parents are not going to take any chances when they hear rumors or see the posts on social media,” the superintendent said.
“It means that students who do show up are not going to learn much that day. It means that some teachers may decide not to teach the lesson that they had planned, because half the class will miss it,” Browning said.
Ava Cahoon, a junior at Land O’ Lakes High, said fellow classmates oftentimes become “very scared” when they hear such threats.
“We have to go into lockdown, and we don’t learn at all,” Cahoon said. “We have to sit in the dark, and the teachers don’t get to teach at all.”
Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco said many of the threats are discovered via social media, including Twitter and Facebook.
“The sad reality,” Nocco said, “is a lot of times these are kids that are just playing a game or just messing around.
“If the kids in our own community realize they’re now going to have a felony charge…they’re not going to play with this game anymore.”
State Rep. Jimmie Smith, the house sponsor of Senate Bill 436, said the rise of social media has created a “sad state of affairs” for making terroristic threats.
“This legislation is going to ensure that those people who make these threats are properly punished,” Smith said.
Browning’s message to students: “Think before you act.”
“It has long-term consequences,” Browning said. “Your chances of getting into college almost disappear, chances of getting jobs almost disappear.”
“It can ruin your future,” Nocco agreed.
Published October 5, 2016