The Last Laugh

The entire room of lobbyists laughed as we heard the update: a new bill introduced in the Georgia House of Representatives to allow school administrators to carry firearms[1]? There was no way this would gather enough support to pass. Plenty of new bills were introduced across the nation in response to recent incidents of gun violence; this could not be anything more than one Georgia legislator’s attempt to show his voters that he is tough on crime. My colleagues dismissed the bill, convinced it was proposed simply to provide that legislator with a campaign piece during the next election season, and not a serious attempt at preventing gun violence.

We dismissed the bill…until the next week, when a new update stunned us: the bill had been amended by the House Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security to allow any school personnel, not just administrators, to carry firearms on campus. The committee had actually expanded the proposal. Specifically, the bill authorizes local school boards of education to approve people to carry firearms on school property, including on school buses and at school functions. The only training the person must complete is “judgment pistol shooting, marksmanship, and a review of current laws relating to the use of force for the defense of self and others.” The bill does not require any minimum hours of training, nor mention any other requirement for training, though it does exempt from training (at the school board’s discretion) people with prior military or law enforcement training. School boards must keep a list of the types and number of firearms the person is allowed to carry, and the firearm must be carried on the person’s body, not in a purse or briefcase. The only people the bill explicitly excludes from approval are those with a history of mental or emotional instability; the bill does not explicitly exclude those with criminal histories. The person must possess a valid weapons carry license, and school boards must conduct annual background checks on the person to determine whether the person remains qualified to possess a weapons carry license. No school board can force any person to carry, and no school board is obligated to approve people to carry. That’s it. That’s every provision of the bill, paraphrased.

In traditional Georgian fashion, a lot of discretion is left up to the county or city’s school board. Kenneth Trump, President of National School Safety and Security Services, believes the responsibility and liabilities of arming school personnel are “beyond the expertise, knowledge-base, experience, and professional capabilities” of school boards[2]. He cautions against tasking teachers with the responsibilities of police officers, who receive months of training and develop a life-safety mindset that is different from that of civilians. According to Trump, education professionals and public safety professionals across the nation do not believe that educators should be armed. He emphasizes the enormous liability on the local school board should something go wrong.

The only personnel allowed to carry firearms on campus should be trained school resource officers and police forces. Instead of arming school personnel, legislatures should focus on fundraising to employ trained professionals at every school. This protective measure should be part of a greater measure to eliminate gun violence by enacting stricter gun laws, such as background checks for purchase and prohibition of assault rifles.

While efforts to prevent gun violence should be promoted, only sensible measures should succeed. The Georgia House of Representatives’ bill to allow any school personnel to carry firearms is not a sensible measure, thus should not succeed. Currently, the bill has been tabled until the next General Assembly Session in January 2014. While this means the bill will not be enacted into law this year, it also means the House leadership considers it a viable bill. To voice your opinion, contact your representative[3].

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