The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

December 23, 2012

Susan Redden:Lawmakers look at laws on guns in public schools

JOPLIN, Mo. — Many Missouri residents, along with those in other states, observed a moment of silence Friday morning to remember those who were shot to death Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Some state lawmakers are going beyond that and looking at legislation that they say might prevent such massacres in the future.

State Rep. Mike Kelley, a Republican from Lamar, has pre-filed a bill that would allow teachers and administrators to carry concealed firearms at school if they have a concealed-carry permit.

Twenty-four lawmakers have signed on as bill co-sponsors, including House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, and Rep. John Diehl, of Town and Country, who is majority floor leader. State Reps. Bill Lant, of Joplin, and Bill Reiboldt, of Neosho, also are co-sponsors.

Support by House leadership should increase the prospects of the measure. Kelley said that if it advances, he would offer an amendment that would require that concealed firearms be kept on the teacher or administrator at all times.

He said the measure would not force school staff members to carry guns but would provide an option for those who have the valid permits.

According to the Missouri School Boards’ Association, firearms can be carried on school property by a person with a concealed-carry permit and with permission from the school board, or by a person who carries the weapon as part of his official duties.

State Rep. Bill White, R-Joplin, said another option under discussion is allowing school officials to go through appropriate training that would authorize them to carry weapons as “deputy” law enforcement officers.

White said he did not know if the idea had been proposed in legislation, but it was discussed at the Capitol during the majority caucus a week ago.

“My preference would be for armed police officers in every school, but there isn’t the budget for that,” he said. “I would hope that the school district could offer a financial incentive for workers who get the extra training.”

White taught at McAuley Catholic High School in Joplin for seven years and remembers the drills that were held in the wake of the school shootings in 1999 in Columbine, Colo. He said he has a concealed-carry permit and has gone through the same sort of tactical training he would envision for school officials.

“It would be the sort of training that would allow them to be an auxiliary officer,” he said. “It would go beyond the basic shooting on the range, and get into studying situations and scenarios and what to do in a confrontation with someone who is armed.”

White said he thinks the training might be better for school administrators or other staff members, rather than classroom teachers.

Formerly an attorney with the Jasper County juvenile program, White said the shootings in Connecticut also are a reminder that the state must provide the resources needed for those with mental health problems.

“I believe in the least restrictive environment, but too often, people can’t get the help they need until they become violent,” he said.

JIM THOMAS

Jim Thomas, a Joplin native and a three-time Democratic candidate for Congress, died last week at his home in Branson at the age of 87.

Thomas, who is credited with helping Branson become an entertainment mecca, owned an appliance store in Joplin. He later operated a nightclub in Joplin. He said he started his business career as a shoeshine boy at the old city market in Joplin.

He ran for Congress from Missouri’s 7th District three times, including a bid in 1964 when he got 48 percent of the vote in a narrow loss to incumbent Durward Hall.

He ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 1994. At the time, he was a Branson businessman and theater owner, and he was introduced for a stump speech in Joplin by entertainer Mickey Gilley.

SUSAN REDDEN is a staff writer for the Globe. She can be reached at sredden@joplinglobe.com or 417-623-3480, ext. 7258. Follow her on Twitter @Susan_Redden.

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