The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

January 2, 2013

Bill to propose arming trained school personnel

By Kim West
kwest@athensnews-courier.com

— A state legislator has announced his intentions to pre-file a bill that would allow school systems to arm some teachers and administrators on school campuses.

State Rep. Kerry Rich (R-Albertville) told the Associated Press on Dec. 28 he plans to pre-file the bill, which would require firearms training every six months and allow school systems to implement the legislation.

As of Dec. 31, Rich’s bill had not been pre-filed in the Alabama Legislature. Members of the 105-member House of Representatives have filed 28 bills to date. The Legislature’s general session begins Feb. 5.

The House Education Policy Committee, chaired by Mary Sue McClurkin (R-Pelham), will discuss the bill with law-enforcement and education officials, including state Superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice, on Jan. 9.

Rich’s reasoning

Rich, who has served 10 years in the House, told the AP that he believes the legislation would help prevent incidents such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that left 20 students and six staff members dead.

He told WAFF-48 that gun-free school zones make them susceptible to mass shootings, and that arming school staff would provide another line of defense.

“The principal of the (Sandy Hook) approached this guy, and then he gunned her down,” Rich said. “If she had a weapon to where she could have approached this guy and taken him out, then the lives of a lot of people, especially the children, could have been saved.”

He also said the bill would offer another viable option to school systems that can’t afford school resource officers.

In an AP interview, McClurkin agreed with Rich’s reasoning that had Sandy Hook Principal Dawn Hochsprung been armed when she confronted the school shooter, “he would not have been able to kill as many.”

There has been lukewarm response to Rich’s proposal from educators, law-enforcement officials and fellow legislators.

Holtzclaw’s blog

In a recent post on his District 2 blog, state Rep. Bill Holtzclaw (R-Madison) wrote that he has not “received a single request to carry a weapon in a school” from constituents in his district, which includes Limestone and Madison counties.

Holtzclaw, a retired Marine firearms instructor, was the Madison City Council president when Discovery Middle School ninth-grader Todd Brown was reportedly shot and killed by a fellow student Feb. 5, 2010.

In his Dec. 28 blog entry, Holtzclaw wrote that he is “doubtful we should arm teachers in Alabama” and that “we need to ensure we have clear, obtainable goals in mind; balanced goals that ease our concerns rather than create more concerns.”

Holtzclaw stressed the comprehensive level of training needed for a person armed in a school setting and asked, “Should we expect teachers to maintain this skill level when armed in a school with our children?” 

Similar questions

State Rep. Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) also has an extensive background with weapons training. He was a police officer and training officer for the city of Huntsville for 25 years.

McCutcheon represents District 25, which includes the cities of Huntsville and Madison, Monrovia, Capshaw and East Limestone.

“I’ve been in a couple of situations where I was shot at, and anytime you carry a firearm for yourself or others in a place like a school, it’s more than being proficient,” McCutcheon said. “It’s shoot or don’t shoot, and it’s making a split-second decision.

“When you look at arming a teacher, I’m not totally against it. But there are so many issues because you’ve got to have the training.”

He also questioned what type of training would be required by the bill and whether teachers want to be armed

“How many of our educators would even want to carry a firearm in school? Because most have signed on to be educators and not security guards,” McCutcheon said. “I feel like our law-enforcement people are better trained, and a lot of things go into carrying a weapon and providing security.”

Local schools

Limestone County Schools currently has seven SROs through the Limestone County Sheriff’s Office. There are six high schools in the system, plus the Limestone Career Technical Center. There is an officer assigned to each of these sites.

Limestone Superintendent Dr. Tom Sisk has said he would like to add eight officers that would provide security at the system’s elementary and middle schools. In an interview three days after the Sandy Hook shooting, Sisk said he does not favor arming teachers and prefers to use SROs for security purposes instead.

Athens City Schools relies on Athens Police in case of emergencies and incidents, including when a father of a suspended student was arrested for attempting to bring a loaded shotgun to the Athens High School campus in May 2010.

Athens Superintendent Dr. Orman Bridges said the city school system is considering all options when it comes to school security, including hiring a consultant.

“I recommended to the board that we hire a consultant to conduct a survey of security in our schools,” Bridges said. “We’ve left everything on the table.”

City response

The city school system currently does not have an SRO program, but the school board, City Council and Athens Police have met to discuss security options, including having an officer assigned full-time at the high school.

“My personal opinion is to put school resource officers in schools because there’s nothing like experience,” said Athens Police Chief Floyd Johnson. “With a firearm, there needs to be a school resource officer or someone along the lines of law-enforcement.

“It’s a changing environment we’re in, and several years ago we did have an SRO. The superintendent and one of the board members met with us in October, and discussed the possibility of looking at an SRO or two because it’s a changing environment we’re in.

“It’s a serious situation, and we’re tasked with addressing it — not only for the schools, but for the community.”