A movement to arm teachers is gaining traction across the country in the aftermath of the Connecticut school shooting that killed 20 children and six adults.
Free firearms safety training courses for teachers are popping up in a handful of states and are filling up fast, and some lawmakers are saying that allowing teachers or administrators to carry concealed weapons might be a good idea.
Teachers unions, though, are saying no way.
“Putting more guns in our public schools is not going to make our kids safer,” said Rich Wood, Washington Education Association president. “Arming our teachers is not the answer.”
Bills to allow teachers to be armed have been proposed in nine states: Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Virginia.
As legislative sessions begin in Washington and Idaho, there are rumblings of similar proposals.
A Republican task force is being formed in Washington to explore a bill allowing educators to be armed, Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, said this week.
No bill has been proposed in Idaho, though Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, said, “I am hearing about teachers who would like the option to carry weapons.”
He added, “It’s hard to say they don’t have the right to protect their classrooms when you need help in seconds and the police are minutes away.”
Since the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, organizations in a handful of states have offered free firearms safety training to educators and the offer has met a big response.
Ohio’s Buckeye Firearms Foundation, a nonprofit educational organization, so far has drawn 900 applicants from at least 14 states, including Washington, for its training program, according to the group.
Robin Ball, owner of Spokane’s Sharp Shooting Indoor Range and Gun Shop, said she’s heard about the training offers. “I would certainly be open to something like that,” she said, “but until teachers can carry weapons on school grounds, there’s no reason to do that.”
Teachers who are taking the training say that even though the law prevents them from carrying a concealed weapon now, they want to be prepared if the law changes, according to news reports.
Washington’s and Idaho’s laws ban guns from school grounds, even if a person has a concealed weapons permit. The only exception is if someone is picking up or dropping off a student.
“That does not mean coming to the school to watch an athletic game, then picking the student up and taking them home, or going to parent-teacher conferences,” said Mark Howard, a Spokane Public Schools security supervisor.
Other than that exception, only a commissioned police officer or school resource officer can have a gun on school grounds.
“There’s nothing in the law that I can see allowing a teacher to possess a firearm,” Howard said. “Our schools are designed to be schools. Hospitals are designed to be hospitals. We want to do everything we can to keep people safe, but schools are designed to educate.”
Some states, such as Ohio, have provisions in gun laws that allow district school boards to override the prohibition and set their own policies. Washington and Idaho school boards do not currently have that authority.
Teachers unions in both states aren’t offering support for such a change, and they suggest the focus should be elsewhere, such as on mental health issues or banning automatic weapons with large-capacity clips.
“There are lots of things that can be done – preventing bullying, taking care of our mentally ill … we are teachers caring for our nation’s most precious people and should focus on that, not being gun-toting people,” said Penni Cyr, Idaho Education Association president.
Barbieri, the Idaho representative, has supported concealed weapons on college campuses but agrees solving the gun violence problem in schools needs to go beyond arming teachers.
He suggests part of the issue is psychotropic drugs, such as anti-depressants and anti-psychotics. “I think we need to look at how we are medicating our children.”