An Arkansas House panel rejected a proposal that would have allowed some school employees to carry guns in schools after completing an active shooter training course.
The House Education Committee voted against the measure after some lawmakers said they were concerned that school employees, even with some training, may be ill-equipped to respond to dangerous shooting incidents.
The proposal, which was backed by the Arkansas School Boards Association, would have given school districts the power to contract with existing employees to provide security services in addition to their regular job duties. In order to carry a gun on school grounds, those employees would have been required to have a concealed carry license and complete a 40-hour course at a law enforcement training academy.
The goal of the legislation was to protect schools from mass shootings by arming people who are already working in schools, according to the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Homer Lenderman, D-Brookland. He said the training course would cost $750 to $800 per person and the equipment – including the gun and bulletproof vest – would cost about $1,500.
The National Rifle Association has been pushing for armed officers in schools across the country since December’s school shooting in Connecticut. That effort is being led by former U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson, who has said he plans to run for Arkansas governor in 2014.
Hutchinson said that he hadn’t fully reviewed the Arkansas legislation, but said he’s been working on model legislation for schools that need security but cannot afford to hire school resource officers.
“We’re looking for the solution there. I don’t think we should be arming all the teachers, but there has to be some protection for schools that don’t have the capability to hire sworn officers,” he said. “It would certainly have to be accompanied by training.”
Opponents of Lenderman’s bill said that they would prefer school districts hire more trained resource officers rather than arming existing school employees.
“This is not about guns in school,” said House Education Committee Chairman James McLean, D-Batesville “This is about who has a gun in school. I want that person to be the most highly trained professional individual who in a blink of an eye can deal with one of these situations without thinking about it.”
Others, including the state’s education commissioner, said they were concerned that putting more guns in schools would be dangerous.
Donna Morey, the president of the Arkansas Education Association, urged lawmakers to focus on other preventative school safety measures, such as reducing bullying and bolstering mental health resources.
“Our duty to every child is to provide a safe and secure public school,” she said. “Guns have no place in our schools.”