Thursday, January 20, 2011

SCHOOL SHOOTINGS: In Nebraska, a proposal to arm teachers + How did gun in 'accidental' Gardena High School shooting get by security?

A Nebraska state senator proposes allowing school districts to authorize teachers to carry concealed guns to deter school shootings. In 43 states bringing guns to K-12 schools is prohibited.

By Stacy Teicher Khadaroo, Staff writer / Christian Science Monitor |

Kyle Binning lights candles Thursday Jan 6, at a memorial outside Millard South High School in Omaha, Neb. The 17-year-old gunman who opened fire at his Nebraska high school, killing an assistant principal, had been removed from the school hours earlier for driving on its football field, police said.  - Dave Weaver/AP

January 19, 2011 - A Nebraska lawmaker wants teachers to be able to carry concealed guns in school.

The proposal follows a recent shooting in which an Omaha high school senior killed an assistant principal and wounded a principal before killing himself.

Each school district would set its own policy, with a two-thirds majority vote of the school board required to allow the weapons. Teachers or administrators would have to get a concealed handgun permit, which requires some training.

“If you have a kid come in to shoot a teacher ... or other kids, it’s best to have somebody that can take care of the situation,” says Nebraska State Sen. Mark Christensen, who submitted the legislation Tuesday. Allowing concealed weapons would also serve as a deterrent, he says.

US has lots of guns, but it's not alone

As shootings at schools and school board meetings crop up in the headlines, it’s not the first time people have gravitated toward the controversial idea that teachers should be able to defend themselves or their students when confronted by an attacker.

Such proposals have been considered in recent years in a number of states, including Arizona, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin.

Forty-three states (plus the District of Columbia) explicitly prohibit people from bringing guns to K-12 schools, according to The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

In Texas, the Harrold Independent School District set up a concealed weapons policy in 2007, and it appears to be the only such district in the United States to allow guns in K-12 schools. With law enforcement in the rural county at least 30 minutes away, “we are our first responders,” says superintendent David Thweatt, who oversees the policy.

The Harrold policy requires extensive training and only allows bullets that shatter when they hit a hard surface, to cut down on ricochet and collateral damage.

Small rural schools can’t afford security guards, Mr. Thweatt says, so “to say that the only people who can protect themselves have to [have] a badge ... that’s just ludicrous. There are a lot of people who can act responsibly.”

There haven’t been any instances yet when the guns have been used, he says, but having armed staff has been “comforting.” He won’t disclose how many of the small school district’s 24 staff members have permits to carry guns.

Gun control advocates and some security experts argue, however, that concealed weapons are not a good way to make school safer.

“The vast majority of teachers want to be armed with textbooks and computers ... to teach in the classroom – not guns. ... [They] don’t want that responsibility, that liability, and that’s not their professional focus,” says Ken Trump, a consultant with the National School Safety and Security Services firm in Cleveland. School boards, he says, don’t have the expertise to oversee staff with weapons.

“It would be extremely dangerous for teachers to be firing weapons in the classroom,” says Daniel Vice, senior attorney at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Even law enforcement officers who are highly trained often miss their target when shooting, he says. He also cites the risk of children finding a gun, or of a gun accidentally discharging and injuring people, which appears to have happened when a student brought a gun to a Los Angeles school in a book bag Jan. 18.

In Maine a teacher’s aide reportedly brought a gun into school accidentally in 2009. She had a permit to carry a concealed weapon but forgot to remove it from her bag. When students saw it she was placed on paid leave pending an investigation, according to the Portland Press Herald.

The Nebraska proposal would also affect colleges and universities.

Currently Utah is the only state with a law allowing concealed weapons on public campuses (and two states don’t permit concealed weapons anywhere), according to NCSL; 24 states prohibit concealed weapons on campuses, while 23 leave it up to each institution of higher education.

Challenges to the weapons bans at universities have been raised and defeated in 22 states since 2007, according to the Brady Center.

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