CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A bill that would allow teachers, administrators and support personnel to carry guns in K-12 public schools is advancing in the West Virginia House of Delegates.
The proposal passed the House Education Committee on Wednesday, just one day after the state Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill that would permit the carrying of firearms on college and university campuses. It will now go before the House Judiciary Committee.
The bill advanced despite concerns shared by a school safety administrator with the state Department of Homeland Security — the agency that would be training educators to carry guns at school.
“I have concerns — I have major concerns,” Homeland Security School Safety and Security Administrator Ron Arthur said during Wednesday’s meeting. “I’ve survived several gun fights and I know what it’s like to carry a deadly weapon every day, and to have that burden. I would not want to ask that of a teacher, out of nothing but love and respect for every teacher I know.”
Arthur did not explicitly say whether he was for or against the bill.
Del. Doug Smith, the bill's lead sponsor, said similar legislation has been enacted in dozens of other states and it's up to each school system to decide whether or not to implement the program. At least 32 states currently allow teachers or other school personnel to carry a firearm with certain restrictions. According to West Virginia's proposed legislation, if local school boards do decide to pursue a concealed carry program, a public hearing must be held so community members can weigh in.
“It's one more tool in the toolbox that can be utilized to protect the lives of our children out there,” Smith said. “Does it have to be used? No. But it's a tool that's available.”
The bill would allow districts in West Virginia to designate one or more teachers, school personnel and administrators as “school protection officers” — a voluntary position for which they would receive no additional compensation to their salaries.
Like the higher education bill passed by the state Senate earlier this week, elementary and secondary education teachers would not be able openly carry a gun in school — the firearms must be concealed and the educator in possession of the weapon must hold a valid concealed carry permit.
Parents and other community members wouldn’t know the identity of the school staff member who is approved to carry a gun — and the information would be exempt from public records requests, according to the bill. The information would be shared by the the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security and local law-enforcement agencies, however.
The bill requires that staff who will be carrying weapons at school undergo a behavioral health assessment. Additionally, the bill states that any teacher approved to carry firearms who lets a gun or ammunition out of their “personal control” while on school property may be “removed immediately from the classroom and subject to employment termination proceedings."
Guns used by school staff must be pistols or revolvers. The bill also allows educators to carry stun guns or taser devices.
The school protection officer would receive training designed by the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security. School districts must notify the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security of school protections officers' name, date of birth and address within 30 days of their designation as the school protection officer.
The designation of school protection officer can be revoked by the school at any time, according to the bill. Appeals can be made to the director of the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security who has final decision authority.
Dale Lee, president of West Virginia Education Association, said educators in his union are mixed on whether or not they’d want the opportunity to be trained to carry a weapon at school.
“I’m the first to tell you: I have members who support this, and members who hate it,” he said.
Lee said if the bill does become law, he’d want every possible safety measure put in place to prevent accidental shootings.
“I know myself — I wouldn’t want to carry, but other educators may,” he said. “The most important thing is protecting our kids.”
After lawmakers voted to move the bill out of the House Education Committee, the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia said that instead of arming school personnel, the state should invest in more teachers and mental health providers.
“Plans to arm teachers are always cloaked in the language of safety, but there is no evidence to support these claims,” the ACLU said in a statement. “Putting more guns in a school will make it look and feel less like a place of learning and more like a penal institution.”