South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed a bill Friday allowing the state's school districts to arm teachers and other personnel with guns.
Supporters say the so-called sentinels could help prevent tragedies such as December's shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in which 20 students and six teachers died. The law will go into effect July 1.
Several representatives of school boards, school administrators and teachers opposed the bill during committee testimony last month. They said the measure could make schools more dangerous, lead to accidental shootings and put guns in the hands of people who are not adequately trained to shoot in emergency situations.
Main bill sponsor Rep. Scott Craig, R-Rapid City, said earlier this week that he has received messages from a growing number of school board members and administrators who back it. Craig said rural districts do not have the money to hire full-time law officers, so they are interested in arming teachers or volunteers.
South Dakota doesn't stand alone on this issue. For a dozen years, Utah has allowed teachers and others with concealed carry licenses to wear a gun in a public school. A couple of school districts in Texas have been given written authorization to allow guns in schools. And legislatures in other states, including Georgia, New Hampshire and Kansas, are working on measures similar to South Dakota's.
The measure does not force a district to arm its teachers and would not force teachers to carry a gun.
On Monday, the South Dakota House voted 40-19 to accept the Senate version of the bill, which added a requirement that a school district must decide in a public meeting whether to arm teachers and others. Another Senate amendment allowed school district residents to push a school board's decision to a public vote.