A bill signed by Gov. Nathan Deal made it legal for local school boards in Georgia to authorize teachers, principals and other staffers to be armed on school grounds beginning in July.
This reversal from the long-standing push for schools to be gun-free zones made international headlines and posed serious questions to educators and parents. Would classrooms be safer if teachers toted guns at school?
Richmond County Board of Education President Venus Cain said she has added the discussion to the board’s May meeting in hopes of persuading her colleagues to keep Augusta schools gun-free. She said weapons have no place in schools and crime fighting should not be a teacher’s responsibility.
“Not in the school house,” Cain said. “I feel like we have so little concern for the next person’s life, that lives aren’t valued anymore. It’s like we’re turning into the wild, wild West where the way people deal with things is we pick up a gun.”
Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell), a sponsor of House Bill 60, which has been coined the Guns Everywhere Bill by opponents, said the idea was to give school districts the option to arm its faculty if the communities so desire.
The law allows school boards to select certain people to carry guns. Those employees must be licensed carriers; undergo training for marksmanship and the law on use of force; and be willing to carry the gun in the first place.
The local boards will be responsible for all costs associated with training, equipment and liability insurance. Documents and meetings relating to personnel approved to carry weapons will not be open to the public.
“At the end of the day, I look at it that we have two things that dictate to us what we’re going to do in relation to weapons,” said Powell, the chairman of the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee. “One is the U.S. Constitution. The other is what I consider the laws of nature that God Almighty gave every one a desire to survive and protect themselves. Some people take that more seriously than others.”
Alfonzo Williams, the Richmond County School Safety and Security chief, said it makes him nervous to think of teachers or principals carrying weapons, especially when trained school resource officers are on campus.
Richmond County has an armed resource officer stationed in every middle and high school. Six officers float between about 35 elementary schools.
Williams said a gun on the hip could be dangerous for teachers and principals, who often hug their students or have to break up fights. He also said these educators do not receive the ongoing training law enforcement officers get on proper stance, shooting techniques and how to react in a crisis.
“Unless it’s your area of expertise, unless it’s what you’re trained to do and it’s your profession, it causes problems,” Williams said. “In a school setting, teachers have too many other things to be concerned with without having to worry about doing the job of a law enforcement officer. Their job is to be concerned with teaching.”
Board of education member Frank Dolan, however, said in an age of school shootings and violence, having more armed adults on campus could prevent tragedy.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Dolan said of armed educators. “People go shoot up schools because they know there’s no guns.”
Board member Jimmy Atkins agreed, saying large schools with only one resource officer might be under-protected. He said he’d want to set policy ensuring employees selected to carry guns were highly trained, and suggested ROTC instructors, some of whom “are more qualified with a firearm than the public safety officers,” could be good candidates.
Board member Jack Padgett said he does not believe arming educators would make schools safer and could even cause more problems in a dangerous situation.
“The opportunity to do something or stop someone is not going to always have the right person in the right place with the right weapon,” Padgett said. “It’s kind of scary for me that we would arm people around kids. I prefer having trained security guards.”
Justin Pauly, the director of communications for the Georgia School Boards Association, said many school districts have reached out to his organization for guidance on the law, but he was not aware of any that were planning to adopt a gun policy.
He said districts still have questions regarding financial costs that will be put on school boards and the extent of training the law requires.
“We’re still exploring what this really means,” Pauly said. “There are a lot of unknowns.”