Local educators: Arming teachers with guns a bad idea

scetrone@heraldonline.comDecember 22, 2012 

Arming educators with concealed guns is a dangerous risk that could make schools deadlier instead of safer, area school officials fear.

That was the reaction of local superintendents to a proposed law that would allow school employees with a concealed weapons permit to carry a gun on campus.

State Rep. Phillip Lowe, a Florence Republican, filed the bill on Tuesday, claiming that children and teachers are defenseless against armed intruders who knowingly prey on gun-free zones.

School district superintendents worry more guns on campus would have the opposite effect, especially since Lowe’s bill doesn’t require any special training beyond a state marksmanship course.

“That’s a disaster waiting to happen,” York schools Superintendent Vernon Prosser said. “Sometimes teachers are down on the floor with students or working in close proximity to students. I just don’t see it helping schools at all.

“You really want to help kids? What about more counselors and mental health counselors?”

Adding the role of armed security officer to educators’ already heavy workloads puts unfair pressure on teachers who aren’t trained to manage violent crises, Rock Hill schools Superintendent Lynn Moody said.

“Our teachers are highly qualified educators,” she said. “They’re not highly qualified in being a police officer.”

Schools would face a host of liability issues, Moody said, adding: What if a teacher fired a gun at the wrong time?

“These things are why police officers and deputy sheriffs go to school,” she said.

Federal and state money “that once helped us place officers on our campuses have gone away, and now the only way we have to fund school officers is through limited local budgets,” Lancaster County schools Superintendent Gene Moore said. “If our legislators believe having armed individuals on campus will make our schools safer, providing funds to put officers in all our schools seems to be a better option.”

It’s been nine days since a 20-year-old man armed with a semi-automatic assault rifle and two semi-automatic handguns shot his way into Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. and killed 20 first-graders and six educators.

In the aftermath, America appears to have reached a tipping point.

Calls for change have sounded daily – a change in gun laws, in school security, in how we care for the mentally ill, in violent video games, in Hollywood’s depiction of violence, in society’s failure to support broken families.

While the push for a comprehensive response continues, policy makers are focused on gun laws.

Some want to enact gun control measures that would curb access to semi-automatic weapons with large-capacity ammunition magazines.

President Barack Obama and Democratic lawmakers have called for bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. Vowing swift action, Obama announced Wednesday that a newly-created gun violence task force would suggest legislation in January.

South Carolina, where even people opposed to Lowe’s bill carry guns, is poised to move in the opposite direction.

The bill lays out a few rules educators would have to follow before having a gun in class:

Only school employees with a concealed weapons permit could carry a gun on campus and only after they notify the principal. They would have to keep the weapons on them at all times and load them with “frangible” bullets, which are designed to shatter in fragments to avoid ricocheting. They also would have to be rated a “precision marksman” by the State Law Enforcement Division.

“The people who are doing these heinous crimes realize that there are no guns at all in a school,” Lowe told The State newspaper. “All they have to do is get ... in the door.

“This (bill) would put doubt in that person’s mind.”

While Gov. Nikki Haley has declined to discuss Lowe’s bill, on Thursday she said the country should reexamine its mental healthcare system, not gun laws.

Lowe’s proposal got a mixed reaction from local legislators. .

Most offered tepid support.

State Sen. Wes Hayes, and Rep. Ralph Norman, both Rock Hill Republicans, and Rep. Greg Delleney, R-Chester, see the bill as the beginning of a discussion about school security.

“I’m not necessarily in favor,” Delleny said. “I just want to hear more.”

Rep. Gary Simrill said the bill is it doesn’t go far enough.

Anyone approved by the state to carry a concealed weapon should be able to have it with them wherever they go, the Rock Hill Republican said. That includes schools.

“It makes places safer,” said Simrill, who said he carries a handgun “about 50 percent” of the time. “I want that bill expanded.”

Rep. John King, a Rock Hill Democrat, said he supports residents’ rights carry guns, but strongly opposes the idea of arming school employees. He called Lowe’s bill a dangerous “knee-jerk reaction.”

“It’s irresponsible for politicians to use a national tragedy as leverage for their extreme political agendas,” King said.

Legislators representing parts of York, Chester and Lancaster counties who did not return calls seeking comment were: Rep. Raye Felder, R-Fort Mill; Rep. Deborah Long, R-Indian Land; Rep. Tommy Pope, R-York; Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell, D-Lancaster; Sen. Creighton Coleman, R-Winnsboro; and Sen. Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney.

Educators are anxious about where Lowe’s bill could lead.

Felicia Robinson, a science teacher at Rock Hill’s Phoenix Academy, worries an angry teenager could try to take a teacher’s gun.

“I also think about disgruntled employees,” she said.

Sherry East, president of the York County Educators Association representing nearly 500 teachers, said most among the handful of teachers she asked don’t like the idea of bringing guns to school.

“There are too many opportunities for an accident,” East said. “It would make kids feel less safe.

“I don’t think many teachers want that responsibility.”

Should school employees be armed?

Educators, lawmakers and parents had a mixed reaction to a proposed law that would allow school employees with a concealed weapons permit to carry a gun on campus.

State Rep. Phillip Lowe, a Florence Republican, filed the bill on Tuesday, claiming that children and teachers are defenseless against armed intruders who knowingly prey on gun-free zones.

Middle and high schools typically have an armed school resource officer on campus, but most elementary schools don’t.

Here’s what people had to say about arming school employees:

• “I am not in favor of such a bill. We have school resource officers at our middle and high schools to provide security. While the Newtown, Connecticut, tragedy proved that no place in a community can be totally secure, I do not believe that having school staff members armed would prevent mentally deranged people from finding a way to create havoc.” Clover schools Superintendent Marc Sosne.

• “As superintendent of the Chester County School District, I recognize our School Board makes our policies and ensures we comply with state and federal laws. Should this proposed legislation pass and become law, the public and our employees should rest assured that our School Board will follow the letter of the law.” Chester County schools Superintendent Agnes Slayman

• “It’s somewhat of a knee-jerk reaction. I don’t feel comfortable with it. I don’t know that the teacher nor anybody else is fully qualified to handle a firearm around children,” Fort Mill school board Chairman Patrick White, a gun owner who has a concealed weapons permit.

• “I don’t think that would make schools safer. That’s just another way for students to access them. That’s borrowing trouble.” Hope Moore, parent of a Rock Hill middle school student.

• The concept of the bill is good, but the issue needs more study. Perhaps metal detectors are a better option. “Overall I’m for guns. I’m for carrying them ... This bill will probably catch support.” State Rep. Ralph Norman, R-Rock Hill.

• “We would like school resource officers in all of our schools, but we can’t afford it. It makes me a little nervous to have so many (guns) in school. Philosophically I’m probably opposed to that. But I’m for anything that makes schools safer.” Fort Mill schools Superintendent Chuck Epps

• “I’m a little hesitant to take a position. It’s something we should look at. In today’s climate, security is important, but in today’s climate, money is tight. It’s very likely the General Assembly is going to take a hard look at security.” State Sen. Wes Hayes, R-Rock Hill

Shawn Cetrone 803-329-4072

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