MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Oklahoma News

April 26, 2013

State House resurrects bill to arm teachers

Under measure districts decide whether to allow employees to carry weapons

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma House resurrected a proposal Thursday to allow specially trained teachers and other district employees to carry firearms into public schools.

After an earlier House-backed bill was denied a hearing by the chairman of the Senate Education Committee, the measure’s author, Rep. Mark McCullough, attached his proposal to a separate bill, which then passed the House on a 69-25 vote Thursday. It now heads to the Senate, where its fate is uncertain.

“The problem is that our schools are not protected against a violent threat,” said McCullough, R-Sapulpa. “The only way we can do that now is to hire an off-duty police officer to the do the job. This gives (the Senate) a second chance to look at this and perhaps let the body vote on it.”

McCullough’s proposal would let individual districts decide whether to adopt policies that would allow teachers and other school employees to carry weapons on campus if they’ve received at least 120 hours of specialized training through the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training.

The bill was previously denied a hearing in the Senate after the chamber’s Education Committee Chairman Sen. John Ford, R-Bartlesville, said he decided instead to defer to the recommendations of a special 22-member school safety task force. That panel, formed in the wake of last year’s deadly school shooting in Newtown, Conn., made several recommendations that were signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin, but did not propose any changes that would allow guns in schools.

McCullough’s language could be stripped out in the Senate, especially since the Senate sponsor of the bill, Sen. Susan Paddack, D-Ada, said she is not a supporter of the concept.

“I support having armed safety officers in our schools, but I do not support making our educators have to also become law enforcement officers,” Paddack said in a statement. “At this point, I do not think that this language will be successful on the Senate side when it comes back over and we are given the opportunity to review and vote on it.”

Some school teachers and administrators have questioned the wisdom of putting more guns in schools, arguing that it could pose safety and liability concerns for individual districts.

“We understand the concerns that we want to keep our children and our schools safe,” said Jeff Mills, executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association. “I think there are ways to do that outside of just more guns.”

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