Richmond County school board weighs options for new gun law

 

Richmond County Board of Education members discussed how to adapt policies to a new Georgia gun law during Tuesday’s meeting, with one board member suggesting ROTC instructors be allowed to carry firearms on high school campuses while others detailed concerns about the new law being misinterpreted.

The law allows school boards to designate faculty or staff members in their schools to carry firearms. Any designee must first accept the nomination, go through marksmanship certification, understand laws pertaining to the use of deadly force, and be certified to carry a firearm. The firearm would either be worn on the staff member’s person or secured at all times.

The staff member would also undergo regular criminal background checks after being designated to carry firearms. The district must cover all training expenses.

Board Attorney Pete Fletcher opened the discussion with a description of the new law, stressing that the school district could refuse “to do anything at all” and adopt no policy to arm any faculty or staff member in the district.

“I looked at this law and joked that they took the paddles out of our hands and now they want to put guns in them,” Fletcher said. “But remember that this law does not mandate anything. We do not have to do anything at all. We can choose to select certain people in the district, but if we do we have to make sure we follow all of these stipulations to the letter. If not, we’ll be liable.”

Board Chairwoman Venus Cain said she was worried that people misinterpreting the new laws would try to carry weapons on school grounds and to school functions, and hoped to inform the public through the committee meeting.

“I’m not looking to put anything in place that would allow more guns in our schools,” Cain said. “But I do want our community know what this law actually means. They need to know that we won’t allow weapons on our school campuses being held by anyone we have not authorized. We have the right to escort you off the campus.”

Board Member Marion Barnes suggested informing people in other ways.

“Put up some signs and hang posters,” Barnes said. “People will misinterpret this law, and we need to make sure we move to stop that beforehand.”

Several members were outright opposed to allowing any school officials to carry firearms on school grounds, saying the 40 public safety officers already at Richmond County schools were trained to handle any outside threat.

But Board Member Jimmy Atkins said he thought the board should consider arming ROTC instructors and others “with the formal training already done.”

“I do think we could consider this option. The public safety officers can’t be in all areas of the school all the time,” Atkins said. “I think we should look at it. I know people have varying opinions on it, and I want input from all channels.”

Cain motioned to have the district’s print shop prepare signs and posters to warn the public that weapons were not allowed on campus, along with placing a similar warning in the next student hand book. The motion carried.

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