CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A bill that would allow teachers, administrators and support staff to carry guns in K-12 public schools is moving forward in the West Virginia state house.
The proposal passed the House Education Committee on Wednesday, just a day after the state Senate overwhelmingly passed legislation that would allow firearms to be carried on college and university campuses. It will now go before the House Judiciary Committee.
The bill was pushed forward despite concerns a school safety administrator shared with the state Department of Homeland Security — the agency that would train educators to carry guns in school.
“I have concerns — I have major concerns,” Homeland Security School security officer Ron Arthur said during Wednesday’s meeting. “I’ve survived multiple shootings and I know what it’s like to carry a deadly weapon and carry that burden every day. I wouldn’t want to ask that of a teacher for nothing but love and respect for every teacher I know.”
Arthur did not specifically state whether he was for or against the bill.
Del. Doug Smith, the bill’s lead sponsor, said similar laws have been enacted in dozens of other states and it is up to each school system to decide whether or not to implement the program. At least 32 states currently allow teachers or other school personnel to carry a firearm with certain restrictions. Under the West Virginia bill, if local school boards decide to conduct a covert carry program, a public hearing must be held so that community members can provide input.
“It’s another tool in the toolbox that can be used to protect the lives of our children out there,” Smith said. “Does it have to be used? no But it is an available tool.”
The bill would allow West Virginia districts to appoint one or more teachers, school staff and administrators as “school safety officers” — a voluntary position for which they would receive no additional compensation on top of their salaries.
Like the higher education law passed by the Senate earlier this week, elementary and secondary school teachers could not carry a gun openly in school — the firearms must be concealed and the educator holding the gun must be in possession of a valid concealed carry permit .
Parents and other community members would not know the identity of the school staff member licensed to carry a gun — and the information would be exempt from public records, according to the bill. However, the information would be shared by the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security and local law enforcement agencies.
The bill will require employees who carry guns at school to undergo a behavioral health assessment. In addition, the bill states that any teacher licensed to carry firearms who leaves a gun or ammunition outside of their “personal control” while on school property will be “immediately removed from the classroom and subject to a process of terminating the.” employment relationship may be subjected”.
Weapons used by school staff must be pistols or revolvers. The bill also allows educators to carry stun guns or tasers.
The school protection officer would receive training designed by the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security. School districts must provide the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security with the name, date of birth, and address of school safety officers within 30 days of their appointment as school safety officers.
According to the draft law, the school protection officer can be revoked at any time by the school. Appeals may be made to the Director of the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security, who has final decision-making authority.
Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, said educators in his union are divided on whether or not they have the opportunity to be trained to carry a gun in school.
“I’ll be the first to tell you: I have members who support this and members who hate it,” he said.
Lee said if the law becomes law, he wants every possible safety measure to be in place to prevent accidental shootings.
“I know myself — I wouldn’t want to wear it, but other educators can,” he said. “The most important thing is to protect our children.”
After lawmakers voted to move the bill out of the House Education Committee, the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia said that instead of arming school staff, the state should invest in more teachers and mental health providers.
“Plans to arm teachers are always cloaked in safety language, but there is no evidence to support these claims,” the ACLU said in a statement. “As more guns are put into a school, it will look less like a place of learning and more like a correctional facility.”