Debate Over New Law That Allows School Staffers to Carry Guns

Rachel Bertsche
·Writer
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A new bill in Oklahoma allows certain teachers and staff to carry firearms in school. (Photo: iStock)

A bill signed into law Tuesday will allow certain school employees in Oklahoma to carry guns on school property.

The bill, signed by Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, gives school boards the right to designate teachers and school staff to carry handguns on school premises, as long as they’ve undergone armed security guard or reserve peace officer training.

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But some teachers and school districts in the state are not in favor of the new law. Officials from Tulsa Public Schools say they probably won’t be taking advantage of the new law. “Five years ago we were able to establish our own school police department and it has really worked with us to make schools safer,” Chris Payne, director of communications at Tulsa Public Schools, tells Yahoo Parenting. “In areas like ours, I think this could be disastrous. We need trained officers that know how to use weapons, and how to safeguard them so they can’t get in the hands of students. Some of my greatest concerns would be how you keep guns out of the hands that people shouldn’t have them.”

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Payne says he thinks the law might be more beneficial for schools in more rural areas, which make up a lot of the state. “In a rural area, where maybe you don’t have police or a sheriff’s department that can get to you quickly to assist, I can see where this might be an option,” he says. “But in general, it’s not something I would recommend. There’s a lot you can do to make schools safer without having to put guns in the hands of a trained administrator, and I would argue for those things first.”

Shawna Mott-Wright, Vice President of the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association, thinks the new law is a “horrible idea,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “It’s not necessary. We already have our own police force, full of trained people. This is what they do. Just like I’m the professional in the classroom, they are the professionals in their field. They cannot teach like I can, and I cannot carry a weapon like they can.”

As mom to an 8 and a 9-year-old, Mott-Wright says the law causes her concern for the safety of her children. “The training required for teachers to meet the requirements of this law and carry handguns is not extensive enough,” she says.

Kenneth Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, agrees. “I’m totally opposed to the issue of arming school staff,” he tells Yahoo Parenting. While he’s in favor of the presence of school resource officers (SROs) — law enforcement who’ve been especially trained for the school environment — he says arming teachers can be dangerous. “Those officers have full police training, and even then there’s a major movement around the country that recognizes that even trained police officers who’ve gone through the academy need special training when they work in schools. Dealing with special education students, age and developmental issues – we’re in a climate where we hold a higher degree of training for those people who work in schools, so why would we say that a lower standard is acceptable for non-law enforcement?”

While 39 states prohibit people with permits to carry a concealed weapon from bringing firearms to K-12 schools, many states do allow teachers with concealed carry permits to bring firearms if they are granted permission from their school board or another authority, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Trump says there’s been an increased push for these kinds of allowances since the Sandy Hook shooting. And while trained teachers might know how to properly handle a weapon, they might not be as well-prepared for quick thinking. “There’s a decision-making mindset that comes with being a career public safety professional that is different than a mindset of a trained educator,” he says. “We’re critiquing police officers everyday for excessive use of force, but we’re going to take an an educator, whose decision making on a day-to-day basis is dealing with things like instructional supervision, cafeteria duty, and classroom instruction, and ask them to make a life-or-death decisions when that’s not part of their professional DNA?”

It still remains to be seen how many school districts in Oklahoma will act on the new law. 

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