SD Senate panel approves bill on arming teachersThe State Affairs Committee voted 5-4 to send the bill to the full Senate after supporters said it could help prevent tragedies like December's grade school shooting Connecticut, particularly in rural schools that don't have a police presence.
By: Chet Brokaw, The Associated Press
PIERRE (AP) — A bill that would allow South Dakota school districts to arm teachers and other personnel with guns was narrowly endorsed by a Senate committee Friday.
The State Affairs Committee voted 5-4 to send the bill to the full Senate after supporters said it could help prevent tragedies like December's grade school shooting Connecticut, particularly in rural schools that don't have a police presence. Supporters also said 15 other states are considering similar proposals.
Representatives of school boards, school administrators and teachers opposed the bill, which has already been approved by the House. Educators said arming teachers could make schools more dangerous because it could lead to accidental shootings and put guns in the hands of people not adequately trained to shoot in emergency situations.
Gov. Dennis Daugaard has said he likes the idea of the bill, but is reserving judgment until he sees the details of any measure passed by the Legislature.
One of the bill sponsors, Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City, said he dealt with an armed student and other threats of violence in schools as a policeman. He said school boards need the option of arming teachers, but could choose not to do so if they oppose it.
"If we think we're immune in South Dakota from school violence, we should probably think again," the former Rapid City police chief said. "As trite as it sounds, the best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."
But Jeff Marlette, superintendent of the New Underwood School District and a combat veteran, said arming school personnel could be dangerous because teachers, administrators and others are not trained to shoot another human being.
"Have we now reached a point in this nation and in this great state where we are now ready to say to our public, to our parents and more importantly to our students that our state has gotten so bad and so unsafe and so dangerous that we must now attend school in an armed fortress?" Marlette asked the committee.
Marlette said he believes only Utah, Kansas and Texas have programs like the one being proposed in South Dakota. Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska have rejected such proposals, he said.
Under the bill, school personnel in a so-called School Sentinel program would not be forced to take part in training. It would also require local law enforcement agencies to approve a school's program.
Republican Rep. Scott Craig of Rapid City — the measure's main House sponsor — said 24 other states have similar programs. He said arming school personnel would be just one part of a comprehensive security plan. Lawmakers have said some schools need to improve security at entrances and boost counseling to identify troubled students.
But Craig said making the program law could deter assaults because potential attackers would be afraid to meet armed resistance inside school buildings. Attackers target schools now because they know the buildings are gun-free zones, he said.
Before approving the bill, the committee removed a section that could have allowed school boards to keep decisions about the program secret. Tieszen said a decision to start a program should be made in a public meeting, but details could be set in a closed meeting.