States Aim, Often Miss, for Armed Security in Schools

Police officer Jeff Strack stands near the entrance at Jordan Elementary School in Jordan, Minn., a small town that decided to place satellite police offices in its public schools. (AP Photo/Jim Mone, File)

Police officer Jeff Strack stands near the entrance at Jordan Elementary School in Jordan, Minn., a small town that decided to place satellite police offices in its public schools. (AP Photo/Jim Mone, File)

April 10, 2013

Lawmakers in more than half of U.S. states have introduced legislation to allow guns in schools since the Newtown shooting.

Some would allow concealed carry firearms at elementary and high schools; others would arm teachers or other officials; while still others would follow the NRA’s recommendation to install armed officers on school campuses, according to the National Conference of State Legislators, which has been tracking such measures.

Arming teachers and faculty or school officers are among the more frequently proposed pieces of gun legislation post-Newtown. While Congress has been mired in debate on guns, states have been taking up the fight, proposing more than 1,000 pieces of legislation since the shooting — about half that would expand gun rights, and half that would curtail them.

The school security bills haven’t only been proposed in gun-friendly states: Washington, Oregon, Illinois and Maryland are also on the list. Only one state, Iowa, is considering a measure to ban guns on school property.

The state plans are similar to the National Rifle Association’s school-shield plan, which it unveiled last week and calls for armed, trained security officers in schools. (You can read the NRA’s full report here (pdf).) In a speech delivered a week after the Newtown shooting, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre noted that the group had been calling for armed officers in schools as far back as the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007.

But only a few states have managed to pass such legislation, given opposition from educators wary about introducing guns in schools.

“We are deeply concerned about increasing the presence of guns on school grounds, which has never proven to be a deterrent,” Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, the major teacher’s union, said in a statement. It also cited a poll of NEA members that found that 68 percent of educators opposed arming school employees.

So far, only four states have passed laws to expand allowances for guns in schools. Arkansas passed a law in February that allows staff and faculty to carry concealed handguns on college campuses (as well as in churches). In March, Virginia amended its ban on firearms in schools to allow armed security officers on private school grounds. Last week, Mississippi passed a bill that would establish a $5.5 million fund to help schools hire armed officers and, for those unable to meet the grant requirements, to arm teachers and faculty.

South Dakota was the first to pass such a law for elementary and high schools. It passed a law in March expanding its provisions for guns in schools. The measure rewrites the state law on gun-free zones in school to allow school boards to determine which employees, if any, can be allowed to carry firearms.

State Rep. Scott Craig, (R) started working on the legislation before Newtown to help schools defend against a potential terrorist attack. Because schools had been considered “gun-free zones,” he worried that they might be targeted first.

Craig said the shooting in Connecticut only “confirmed the rightness of the bill,” which he expects will be most effective as a deterrent. Of the 152 school districts in the state, only a few are likely to implement a new policy, he said, specifically those in rural areas where law enforcement can’t immediately respond to a crisis.

“The concept behind the bill — and most people don’t get this — simply passing the bill, not even implementing the program, means that there’s knowledge — statewide, nationwide — that South Dakotans allow there to be an armed presence in schools.”

He added, “Any would-be shooter knows that South Dakota’s not where you’d go.”

Sarah Childress

Sarah Childress, Former Series Senior Editor, FRONTLINE

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