Mississippi Lawmakers: OK to Arm Instructors

JACKSON, Miss. — Some Mississippi lawmakers want to give schools the options of arming teachers in an effort to prevent future school shootings.

A proposal made Tuesday in the state Senate would let school boards set up safety programs that would include letting teachers and other school employees with special training carry concealed guns.

Private schools, community colleges and public universities would also be able to authorize their employees to carry guns under the amendment to House Bill 1083, which was approved by the Senate Judiciary A Committee on a 7-4 vote party line vote, with majority Republicans all voting for and minority Democrats all voting against.
Committee Chairman Briggs Hopson, a Vicksburg Republican, said the bill responds to recent school shootings, including one in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were killed at a high school.

“This is one of several solutions to make our schools safer,” Hopson said.

Some parents and teachers reacted sharply against the proposal.

“Teachers have enough to do already,” said Tijuana Beckworth, who has two children in Leflore County schools. “It will be a problem and not a solution.”

President Donald Trump, Gov. Phil Bryant and the National Rifle Association support such measures. Such plans also have cropped up in Florida and Alabama in recent days. At least eight states currently allow, or don’t specifically prohibit, concealed weapons in K-12 schools, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

“This is a common-sense way for schools to increase student safety, should their leadership deem it necessary to do so,” Bryant said in a statement Tuesday. “As I shared with President Trump on Monday at the White House, we must do all we can to protect our children. This is part of that effort.”

School and teacher groups are largely against the plan, though.

“Teachers want to teach, they don’t want to be law enforcement,” said Kelly Riley, executive director of Mississippi Professional Educators, a teachers group with 14,000 members. “Our state is already facing a critical teacher shortage and I’m afraid this is going to only heighten our teacher shortage.”

School employees would have to take a course in safe gun handling from an instructor approved by the Department of Public Safety and would have to renew that training every two years. The school would designate members of its safety team in consultation with local police and sheriffs, but those law-enforcement agencies would not be able to veto the local school’s decision. Trained employees would be immune from criminal prosecution or civil lawsuits if they shot someone as part of their school security duties.

Mississippi passed legislation in 2013 allowing armed guards in schools and providing a $10,000 for each guard hired by schools that won grants from the state.

Schools are also required to submit safety plans. The National Association of School Resource Officers favors hiring more trained law-enforcement officers, in part to ensure a teacher’s gun won’t mistakenly wind up in a student’s hands.

Hopson added the amendment to a House-passed bill that would allow people with an enhanced concealed-weapons permit to challenge rules about where they can carry guns on public property. Hopson, though, changed the House bill so that it wouldn’t void existing government rules and would exempt athletic events. Universities had warned against the bill, saying athletic opponents could balk at playing in stadiums in front of armed spectators.

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