Teachers could be designated to carry guns or stun guns under bill headed to full House

Legislation permitting teachers to carry concealed firearms as designated school protection officers will be up for a vote in the full House of Delegates.

Scot Heckert

“Everywhere there’s a soft target is where there’s nobody to protect the kids,” said Delegate Scot Heckert, R-Wood, advocating for the bill.

The bill advanced Wednesday afternoon from the House Judiciary Committee, where the room was packed with people wearing red Moms Demand Action tshirts, reflecting an organization advocating for public safety measures intended to protect people from gun violence. They oppose the bill.

House Bill 4299 would apply to teachers, administrators, support personnel in elementary or secondary schools who volunteer to be designated as school resource officers. They would be authorized to carry concealed firearms or a stun gun or Taser.

Any educator seeking the designation would need to provide proof of a valid conceal carry permit and a certificate demonstrating completion of a Security Protection Officer Training program. The training would need to include mitigation techniques, neutralization of potential threats and active shooters, de-escalation techniques, crisis intervention and more.

Laura Kimble

“What I’m hoping is that we won’t have football players, with that vim and vigor that they have, planning how they’re going to defend their classroom if something happens at their school. We won’t have 5-year-olds asking their parents ‘What do I do? I was told to go in the corner and just be there; I want to run away and go home,” said Delegate Laura Kimble, R-Harrison.

“Our kids need protected.”

Joey Garcia

Delegate Joey Garcia, D-Marion, argued against advancing the bill, saying state law has already been opened up for trained personnel such as ex-law enforcement officers or ex-military personnel to serve inside schools.

“The difference between what we’ve done previously with school resource officers, protection officers — that’s their job; safety’s their job. Protecting kids is their full time job,” he said.

“Teachers who would have to have the firearm within their control have so many other things that are going on within the course of their day and do not have the professional experience or training to potentially prevent an accident of monumental proportions of happening.”

One of the people watching inside the House Judiciary room was Sarah Gottlieb, a school nurse for the past two decades. She is concerned about unintended consequences like the possibility of a student grabbing a firearm from a teacher.

“A lot of our students are tall, they’re strong and they can be quite emotional. Some are quite mature, some can be very emotional,” Gottlieb said.

“So it worries me that they get upset about something; they might catch a teacher by surprise and relieve them of their gun. Then you have a horrible situation where you have an armed student who is upset and not thinking straight and doesn’t have good long-term thinking skills developed yet. I think that has to be a consideration when a teacher has so many other responsibilities besides armed protection.”

James McJunkin

James McJunkin is a retired intensive care pediatrician who testified during the committee meeting. He has been concerned about gun injuries to children after treating a 3-year-old who was shot through the spinal cord by his 7-year-old brother. The young victim was paralyzed from the neck down, depended on a ventilator and died four years after the accidental shooting.

“I was very impressed that unintentional injuries can be extremely hazardous and, in the sense where we’re thinking about introducing guns into the schools, I’m very concerned about the potential for these unintentional injuries that can be grave and totally life changing and should be totally preventable,” McJunkin said in the hallway after the meeting.

“I think people underestimate the potential for unintentional injuries.”

McJunkin has been advocating for preventive safety measures such as improving school entrances and exits, teaching suspicious activity reporting, threat assessment and safe storage at home.

“When we focus on prevention,” McJunkin said, “we then don’t need to take the reactive approach of using guns.”


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