By Eric Boehm | PA Independent
HARRISBURG – Armed guards may soon patrol outside Pennsylvania’s public schools, and the teachers may be armed, as well.
A pair of Republican lawmakers in the state House are working on legislation to make Pennsylvania schools safer. But while all sides agree on the need to improve school safety, some worry about bringing guns into schools, regardless of the lawmakers’ intent.
State Rep. Greg Lucas, R-Erie, plans to sponsor legislation that would make it legal for teachers and school administrators to carry weapons in the classroom, provided they are licensed to carry a firearm and have valid and current certification under state law.
“As we consider ways to improve school safety, I believe we have to consider trusting school personnel to serve as a first line of defense. We trust them to protect our children every day. I think we need to offer them the tools to carry out that sacred trust,” Lucas wrote in a memo being circulated among members of the state House this week.
Pennsylvania has more than 3,000 public school buildings spread across 500 school districts.
Lucas, who was sworn-in to his first term in office Tuesday, said the bill is personal.
In 1998, a student in Lucas’ hometown of Edinboro brought a gun to a school dance and opened fire, killing one and wounding two others. The body count could have been higher, Lucas said, if not for the intervention of an armed citizen, who used his own gun to stop the shooter.
Students and school employees would be safer if guns were allowed in schools, he said Wednesday.
“I think it’s our duty and responsibility to protect our children, and this is one way of doing it,” Lucas told PA Independent on Wednesday.
The National Rifle Association last month called for armed guards at all American schools in the aftermath of the horrific shooting in Connecticut last month. The pro-gun rights lobby suggested using retired police officers and other volunteers.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter told MSNBC last month the NRA’s proposal was a “completely dumb-ass idea.”
Clearly, Lucas comes from a different perspective. He is a proud gun owner who has worked as an instructor for the NRA. The NRA endorsed Lucas when he successfully ran for office in November.
He was formerly a teacher and is married to a public school teacher. If people are allowed to carry guns for self-defense in most other settings, he says, the same rules should apply to schools.
Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFirePA, which advocates gun control, said Wednesday that arming teachers gives her pause.
As a parent, she worries about accidents in the classroom, but also about how students might be able to gain access to those weapons.
Goodman said it would be better to have more extensive background checks for all guns and for the purchase of ammunition, and to require residents to report lost and stolen guns to law enforcement.
Lucas said teachers who chose to be armed would likely be required to keep their weapons locked inside a desk or a safe during the school day.
But Lucas isn’t the only lawmaker looking to increase security at Pennsylvania’s schools.
State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, chairman of the House State Government Committee, plans to introduce legislation that would allow school districts to hire retired police officers and others with law-enforcement experience to guard schools.
Schools would be allowed to hire people who have completed training to be a municipal police officer in Pennsylvania, graduates of the Pennsylvania State Police Academy and those who had completed other, similar law-enforcement training programs.
Under current law, it is unclear what qualifications are sufficient for that purpose, Metcalfe said.
Metcalfe said he supports Lucas’ proposal, and opposes the idea of “gun-free school zones,” but believes his bill would move more quickly through the Legislature.
“Going farther than that right now, I’m not sure we could get it passed quickly, and this is something that we should move ahead with quickly,” he said.
Goodman said more armed security isn’t necessarily the best way to prevent future school massacres. She said gunman killed 13 people and wounded 29 others in November 2009 at Fort Hood, an Army base in Texas with plenty of well-armed, well-trained soldiers.
Several other bills dealing with guns and school safety are expected to be introduced in the early days of the new legislative session. Notably, state Rep. Ron Waters, D-Philadelphia, has announced his intention to introduce an assault weapons ban in Pennsylvania.
Shortly after the Connecticut shootings, Gov. Tom Corbett gave little indication he was interested in such a ban. He argued that it would be ineffective when so many guns are already available.
Goodman said she hoped lawmakers, early in the new session, would approve legislation linking Pennsylvania to the national background check system for gun purchases.
Contact Boehm at Eric@PAIndependent.com and follow @PAIndependent on Twitter.
— Edited by John Trump at firstname.lastname@example.org