SD House panel approves bill on arming teachersPIERRE (AP) — A deeply divided South Dakota legislative committee approved a bill Friday that would allow school districts to arm teachers and other personnel with guns to protect against attacks like last month's school shooting in Connecticut.
By: Chet Brokaw, The Associated Press
PIERRE (AP) — A deeply divided South Dakota legislative committee approved a bill Friday that would allow school districts to arm teachers and other personnel with guns to protect against attacks like last month's school shooting in Connecticut.
The Education Committee voted 8-7 to send the measure to the House after extensive testimony and debate in hearings over two days.
Supporters said school boards need the option of arming teachers, administrators or volunteers to protect against attacks, particularly in rural districts where no law enforcement officers are stationed in school buildings. But opponents — including organizations representing school boards, teachers and administrators — said putting guns in schools could make them more dangerous because it could lead to accidental shootings or other problems if students get their hands on teachers' guns.
Rep. Dan Kaiser, R-Aberdeen, a police officer, said the Legislature should trust local school boards to decide whether to have armed personnel in school buildings. Kaiser and other supporters said law officers often cannot get to a school to stop intruders from shooting people.
"When push comes to shove, the only way in reality to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," Kaiser said.
The bill was opposed by the Associated School Boards of South Dakota, the South Dakota School Administrators Association and the South Dakota Education Association, the state's main teachers union. Lawmakers supporting the bill said they believe school officials don't want the responsibility of deciding whether staff or volunteers can carry guns in school.
Rob Munson, executive director of the School Administrators Association, said people become teachers and administrators because they want to educate children, not serve as armed guards. He said his military service in the Middle East taught him the importance of knowing when to pull the trigger and when to hold fire. Teachers are not trained or prepared to make those decisions, he said.
A person has a one in a million chance of being struck by lightning on any given day, but there's only a one in 3 million chance a school will be attacked on that day, Munson said.
"Schools are safe environments. Introducing weapons into that school environment changes that whole factor," Munson said.
The bill would allow individual school boards to create so-called sentinel programs, authorizing the arming of school employees, hired security officers or volunteers. The county sheriff would have to approve such a program, and school employees could not be forced to take part.
The committee on Friday approved a change in the bill to require that anyone taking part in such a program complete training that would be designed by the same commission that sets training standards for law enforcement officers.
The bill's main sponsor, Rep. Scott Craig, R-Rapid City, 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 experts have suggested putting more armed people in schools.
Craig said schools are inviting targets to mass shooters because they are gun-free zones. Arming school personnel could discourage attackers or at least let teachers and others stop those attackers, he said.
"The intent of this bill is to provide the option for the school districts that want to provide an armed presence, that do not want to be another school that when law enforcement arrives, the deed has already been done," Craig said.
Rep. Timothy Johns, R-Lead, said no one has shown that South Dakota schools are unsafe. He said the state needs to assess each school building to determine if additional security measures are needed. Additional counseling services for students and more secure building entrances would help, he said.
Armed personnel in a building might not do much to stop attackers, Johns said.
"Usually, these things are over before somebody from the other end of the school can even react," Johns said.