SD House panel delays vote on arming teachersRepresentatives of teachers and school boards told the House Education Committee that they believe putting guns in schools could lead to accidental shootings or other problems if students get their hands on teachers' guns.
By: Chet Brokaw, The Associated Press
PIERRE (AP) — South Dakota school districts should be allowed to arm certain teachers and administrators with guns to protect against attacks like last month's school shooting in Connecticut, lawmakers sponsoring a bill told a state legislative panel Wednesday.
"If a school feels defenseless and vulnerable ... we support their right to defend themselves however they choose to do so," said Rep. Scott Craig, R-Rapid City, the measure's main sponsor.
But representatives of teachers and school boards told the House Education Committee that they believe putting guns in schools could lead to accidental shootings or other problems if students get their hands on teachers' guns.
"Putting guns in the hands of teachers and principals makes school less safe," said Wade Pogany, executive director of the Associated School Boards of South Dakota.
The Education Committee heard more than an hour of testimony on the bill Wednesday, but delayed a vote until Friday after running out of time for committee debate.
The bill would allow individual school boards to create so-called sentinel programs by authorizing the arming of school employees, hired security officers or volunteers. A school board would first have to consult with local law enforcement agencies, and school employees could not be forced to carry guns.
Craig said he was working on the bill even before the Dec. 14 elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children and six adults dead. He said the measure would leave it up to each school district to decide whether to arm teachers and others.
Schools now may appear to be easy targets to those planning mass shootings, especially smaller school districts that have no police officers stationed in their buildings, Craig said. Someone planning an attack on a school might be deterred if it's known that armed people are inside, he said.
Rep. Betty Olson, R-Prairie City, said she has a permit to carry a concealed weapon, but cannot take a gun into a school when she works as a substitute teacher.
"I couldn't protect the kids in the class or myself if we had one of those lunatics like Connecticut come in and start shooting up the place," Olson said.
Orson Ward, a member of the Lead-Deadwood School Board, said his long career in the U.S. Army and South Dakota Army National Guard has taught him that people need a lot of training and discipline to use a gun effectively against an attacker. An armed teacher or administrator could accidentally shoot students, he said.
"It is not easy to shoot another human being," Ward said.
Sandy Arseneault, president of the South Dakota Education Association, the state's main union for teachers, said she owns guns but doesn't want them in schools. She said a student who planned to carry out a school shooting when she was a teacher in Custer made a hit list that included her and others. An armed guard brought into the school at the time made students and teachers nervous, Arseneault said.
The student was caught before he could do anything.
Dianna Miller, lobbyist for the Large School Group, which represents the state's 12 largest school districts, said schools need to provide counseling and mental health services and make efforts to prevent bullying.
"I'm here to tell you our schools are safe and will continue to be safe," Miller said. "We can't make a school an armed fortress."
But Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City, a former police chief, said rural school districts located far from a law enforcement agency should have the option of arming teachers.
"A good guy with a firearm in the schools could improve safety in these situations," Tieszen said.