Last January, some were amused and others terrified when Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said guns could be used in “schools to protect from potential grizzlies.” The meme-worthy comment was made during DeVos’ confirmation hearing when U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D- Connecticut) asked her if “guns have any place in or around schools?” Murphy previously served as a member of the House of Representatives where he represented Newtown, Conn., the town where 20 elementary school students and six school employees were shot and killed in 2012.
While many have pushed for stronger gun control measures since the Sandy Hook massacre, others are pushing measures to increase the presence of firearms in schools. One such measure is currently being considered in the Pennsylvania Senate and could be voted on next month.
“As we weigh our options, I believe we need to consider providing school employees with more choices than just locking a door, hiding in a closet or diving in front of bullets to protect students,” wrote the bill’s co-sponsor Sen. Donald White (R-Indiana) in a statement. “With the legal authority, licensing and proper training, I believe allowing school administrators, teachers or other staff to carry firearms on the school premises is an option worth exploring.”
Senate Bill 383, School Safety Options, was passed by the Senate Education Committee last month. But legislation like White’s has been criticized by major education organizations like the American Federation of Teachers and the Pennsylvania State Education Association.
"Teachers are not trained law enforcement officers – their job is to educate children and act as role models," PSEA President Jerry Oleksiak said in a statement. "PSEA is not opposed to the use of appropriately trained and armed school safety personnel in schools, like the school safety officers that some districts employ. What our Association does oppose is arming teachers, education support professionals, and other school staff.
"This legislation would create more problems for first responders arriving at the scene of an armed confrontation, making it more difficult to immediately distinguish a perpetrator from a school employee. PSEA is for strategies that keep students safe. This bill doesn't keep students safe. That's why we oppose it."
Local organization CeaseFirePA agrees SB 383 is dangerous. And they're also critical of an amendment to the legislation passed this week that would keep the identities of school personnel with firearms private.
“This bill sets up the ability for local school boards to decide to allow certain school personnel to have access to weapons on school property,” says Rob Conroy, director of organizing with CeaseFirePa. "They can authorize this without providing any real guidelines for these personnel when accessing these weapons or bringing weapons on to school property. Essentially you're setting up a school district for a massively increased risk for violence.”
But despite opposition to the legislation, it appears to have the necessary support in the Senate. It was co-sponsored by local Sen. Randy Vulakovich (R-Shaler) who defended it at a meeting
with parents in the Fox Chapel School district last month.
“I'm a big believer that school districts can make this decision on their own,” he said.
The Senate is expected to vote on the legislation when they return June 5. There's little indication of how it will fare in the House, but Gov. Tom Wolf
has promised to veto the bill if it reaches his desk.
“No matter what the current temperature is on this bill, the fact that this bill is circulating at all is certainly a danger to our kids," says Conroy. “Having access to firearms in areas where firearms have previously been prohibited is just scary public policy.
“As always, it's up to citizens to make their feelings known about bills like this and to take action.”