Even the administration of Gov. Robert Bentley wants the Legislature to wait for an alternative before approving a bill by Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Albertville, that would allow school administrators to double as armed security in their schools, a Bentley cabinet member said.
“The administration firmly believes that only trained law enforcement” should carry weapons in schools, Homeland Security Director Spencer Collier said.
Rich’s bill, HB129, went before the House Education Policy Committee Wednesday for public comment before potentially going on to the full House for a vote. As currently written, the bill would allow school administrators and civilian security guards to carry firearms or stun guns in schools.
Rich said his goal was to supplement the sworn police officers now patrolling schools as resource officers. Some schools, he said, can’t afford those officers.
“I see little, if any help coming from the state,” he said of school systems that can’t pay for more officers.
Arming teachers has been a hotly debated issue across the country since late December, when the National Rifle Association proposed it as one solution to school shootings like the one in Connecticut.
Rich’s argument for the bill was similar to the NRA’s: An armed principal or vice principal might be able to kill a school shooter, and wouldn’t have to wait for police to arrive.
At the public hearing, however, every speaker opposed the plan. Collier and other law enforcement officials said the 16 hours of firearms training required in Rich’s bill isn’t the same as the training law enforcement officials must have to prepare them to use deadly force.
“It’s not just a matter of taking someone out and qualifying them with a firearm,” Collier said.
Escambia County Sheriff Grover Smith told lawmakers the law would make his job harder.
“When I’m responding to an active shooter situation, and I see someone running down the hall with a gun, and their back’s to me I don’t know” whether it’s a teacher or a shooter, he said.
Rich’s bill would also allow school employees to be armed with stun guns. Smith also opposed that measure, saying stun guns aren’t a good defensive weapon and could injure students.
Lee County deputy Pamela Revels, a school resource officer, said that in training teachers how to respond to a shooting incident, she’s seen that they’re not in the same mindset as trained law enforcement officers.
“I watch their reaction,” she said. “It’s not the same as a law enforcement officer.”
Speakers also raised questions about the legal ramifications of arming school employees. Sally Howell, spokeswoman for the Alabama Association of School Boards, said educators wouldn’t have legal protection for their actions and probably couldn’t be covered by school insurance if they were armed. She also said the level of training required in the bill wasn’t sufficient.
“It is one thing to train someone how to shoot a gun, but it is another thing to know when not to shoot a gun,” she said.
Rich stood by the proposal, saying it was the only solution for schools with few resources in rural areas. He asked opponents what school staff should do to protect children when an armed intruder enters a school and police are 20 miles away.
“There is no one who can give me an answer,” he said.
Collier said the Bentley administration has been working on a comprehensive plan to deal with and prevent shooter situations since shortly after the Newtown shooting. He called on lawmakers to wait until after that proposal was released before taking action.
The committee didn’t vote the bill up or down, choosing instead to refer it to a subcommittee for refinement. That adds a hurdle between the bill and final passage. The Legislature is in session for only 30 days per year, and bills that don’t make it through both houses before the 30-day limit won’t pass. Today is the seventh day of the session.
Lawmakers also briefly discussed a bill by Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow, D-Red Bay, that would allow schools to deputize some teachers and retired teachers who could then volunteer as security guards.
Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, opposed the bill, saying it wasn’t a good idea to bring more guns into schools.
“You want a war zone in a school,” he said.
“I want to prevent a war zone,” Morrow replied.
Morrow’s bill was also sent to subcommittee.
Capitol & statewide correspondent: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.