The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

December 19, 2012

Proposal would allow Missouri teachers to carry concealed guns

By Emily Younker

— Less than a week after a shooting at a Connecticut elementary school left 27 people dead, a Missouri lawmaker has pre-filed a bill that would allow faculty members to carry concealed weapons in schools.

The bill, filed Tuesday by Rep. Mike Kelley, a Republican from Lamar, would allow teachers and administrators to carry concealed firearms on school premises if they have a valid concealed-carry endorsement. The bill will be considered during the legislative session, which begins Jan. 9.

“This is just another line of defense that would give the teachers in those horrible situations another chance to protect those who are most innocent,” Kelley said Wednesday.

Kelley said the bill is not necessarily a response to the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in which a gunman shot and killed 26 people, including 20 children, before killing himself. He said the issue of allowing school staff members to carry concealed weapons is something he has discussed with residents in his district for at least a year.

Kelley said his bill would not force school staff members to carry guns but instead would provide an option for those who would wish to do so.

“I do believe it would increase safety in schools,” he said. “There would be a very limited scope that this bill would affect, and those that do want to (carry concealed weapons) would be those who have knowledge of guns and who would want to make schools a safer place.”

Kelley said that should the bill advance through the House of Representatives, he would offer an amendment that would require that concealed firearms be kept on the teacher or administrator at all times.

According to the Missouri School Boards’ Association, it is currently illegal under state law to carry a firearm onto school premises except for:

• A person who carries a firearm as part of his official duties, such as a member of the military.

• A person who is transporting the weapon in a nonfunctioning or unloaded state when ammunition is not available.

• A student participating in a school-sanctioned event.

• Anyone with a concealed-carry permit and with permission from the school board.

Kelley’s bill would essentially add teachers and administrators who have a valid permit as another exemption under the law.

C.J. Huff, superintendent of Joplin schools, said Wednesday that the bill concerns him.

“I have 600 certified staff members and teachers,” he said. “I think that we would be amiss to think that our schools would be safer by potentially having 600 armed teachers in our schools.”

Huff said he doesn’t think arming teachers is the solution to preventing school shootings. He said the conversation should instead focus on aspects such as mental health, which often has been an issue for those who conduct mass shootings.

“I think that such a type of approach to security in our schools is not a reasonable approach to addressing a much broader problem, which is, in my opinion, the mental health challenges we face in our schools,” he said.

Lane Roberts, chief of the Joplin Police Department, did not comment on the bill itself but said that if the measure were to be enacted, he would make his staff available as a resource if school officials wanted.

“As with any other right concerning firearms, there are certain levels of prudence we would certainly advocate,” he said. “My hope would be that they would invite us into the discussion. We have some insights and experiences that might be helpful in determining what kind of policies they would implement.”

Todd Fuller, spokesman for the Missouri State Teachers Association, said he is concerned that the bill could take decision-making power regarding guns in schools away from those who lead school districts.

“The school district needs to have the prerogative to do what’s best for the school district,” he said. “This sentence in one fell swoop essentially allows one person to make a change, and a pretty drastic change, for an entire district. Local control has always been a big issue for us, and this usurps that local control.”

Paul Fennewald, special adviser for the Missouri School Boards’ Association, echoed similar sentiments.

“A piece of legislation that says that (concealed weapons in schools) is allowed, that may be fine, but I think that decision needs to be made at a local level,” said Fennewald, who oversees the Missouri Center for Education Safety.

Initial reactions to the pre-filed bill were mixed Wednesday when the Globe asked for comment through its Facebook page.

Said reader Phil Greer: “I taught school for a long time, and I would be fine with some school personnel having a gun. However, teaching is a lot more complicated than most people realize. I think a better proposition would be to enlist or employ security personnel who could devote their entire attention to the safety and security of everyone. People like policemen (paid, of course), well-trained parents and retired military come to mind.”

Another reader, Amy Cortinas, said: “I don’t think it’s about holding our teachers up to police or soldier standards. No one would be making the teachers carry. It would be their choice. Their job would still be to teach, obviously, but that added security would be there if ever it was needed.”

One reader, Chuck Carpenter, added his thoughts as a future educator: “As someone who will be entering the education field relatively soon, I don’t think addressing the problem of guns in schools entails adding more guns. I wouldn’t carry one. I’m a teacher, not a mercenary.”

Around the country

MISSOURI IS NOT THE ONLY STATE where such legislation has been pre-filed in the aftermath of the Connecticut shooting. Legislators in Texas, Oklahoma and South Carolina also have pre-filed or have said they plan to file similar bills. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder on Tuesday vetoed a bill that would have allowed individuals with a permit to carry concealed pistols into schools and other public places in that state.