Vicksburg senator discusses his proposal to allow teachers to be armed

Published 10:38 am Wednesday, February 28, 2018

By John Surratt

The Vicksburg Post

VICKSBURG — State Sen. Briggs Hopson, R-Vicksburg, said a proposal to arm teachers in schools to prevent future school shootings is just one more option for schools to improve the safety of students, staff and faculty.

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Arming teachers has been supported by President Donald Trump, Gov. Phil Bryant and the National Rifle Association, and similar proposals have recently been presented in Florida and Alabama.

At least eight states currently allow, or don’t specifically prohibit, concealed weapons in K-12 schools, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Hopson, chairman of the Senate Judiciary A Committee which moved the bill to the floor, said the bill is called “The School Safety Act,” and is an amendment to House Bill 1083.

The House bill allows someone with an enhanced conceal carry permit who believes he has been prohibited by any rule, policy or notice from bringing his weapon on public property may file suit in circuit court, pending an investigation by the Attorney General’s office into the complaint.

If the Attorney General’s investigation finds the policy or notice is in violation of the state’s concealed carry law, the gun owner may file suit against the agency or person who set the policy. The bill passed the House 80-29.

“As much as nobody likes to talk about the issues of guns in schools, we’ve got to address some of the problems like the problem we had at Parkland (Florida), where you’ve got people who are crazy who bring weapons to school to harm our students and others,” Hopson said.

He said the decision by school administrations whether to arm teachers “is discretionary; not mandatory.”

“Our local schools use school resource officers, and they have been able to utilize and afford those. But some school districts may not have those, and they may want to try something different.”

He said the bill “puts another tool in their (the school boards) toolbox,” if the boards wish to use it, and allows them to designate one or more individuals who would have intensive training on school situations.

“It’s not just saying, you can be armed,” Hopson said. “They (the teachers) have to have intensive, detailed training that they would have to undergo to make sure they’re qualified to be able to do this, and they would work in conjunction with law enforcement to make sure this is done properly if they’re going to do it at all.”

Under the bill, the school would designate members of its safety team in consultation with local police and sheriffs, but those law-enforcement agencies would not be able to veto the local school’s decision.

School employees would have to take a course in safe gun handling from an instructor approved by the Department of Public Safety and would have to renew that training every two years.

Trained employees would be immune from criminal prosecution or civil lawsuits if they shot someone as part of their school security duties.

“It’s an opportunity to have one more options to consider,” Hopson said. “They may not decide to do it, they may decide to get school resource officers, or do nothing.”

St. Aloysius principal Buddy Strickland declined to comment on the bill because he had not read it, but other people across the state have given their opinions.

“Teachers have enough to do already,” said Tijuana Beckworth, who has two children in Leflore County schools. “It will be a problem and not a solution.”

“This is a common-sense way for schools to increase student safety, should their leadership deem it necessary to do so,” Bryant said in a statement Tuesday. “As I shared with President Trump on Monday at the White House, we must do all we can to protect our children. This is part of that effort.”

School and teacher groups are largely against the plan.

“Teachers want to teach, they don’t want to be law enforcement,” said Kelly Riley, executive director of Mississippi Professional Educators, a teachers group with 14,000 members. “Our state is already facing a critical teacher shortage and I’m afraid this is going to only heighten our teacher shortage.”