By Chas Sisk / The Tennessean
Teachers with a background in policing would be allowed to carry a
gun in Tennessee schools under a bill making its way through the state
In a measure gathering momentum among state
lawmakers, school staffers who have worked as police officers could be
certified to bring their weapons with them to work.
The bill is
meant to serve as a compromise between those who want all teachers to be
able to carry guns and those who want to expand the number of police
officers in schools in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School
shooting last December in Connecticut.
Law enforcement groups,
education organizations and Gov. Bill Haslam back the measure. They say
it strikes a balance between cost considerations, school safety and
"The governor wanted the bill to be permissive,
allowing local school boards to have the flexibility to decide whether
this is something they want," said David Smith, a Haslam spokesman, "and
if the local decision is made to authorize someone to have a gun on
school grounds, he or she must have the appropriate training."
The measure, House Bill 6,
still is making its way through legislative committees, but it is on
track to reach the floors of the state Senate and House of
Representatives before the session is expected to end next week.
legislation was one of several filed soon after lawmakers gathered in
January for the 2013 session. Competing plans included letting all
teachers with permits to carry handguns bring their weapons to school
and hiring more school resource officers (SROs) - full-time police
officers assigned to the schools.
Most of those proposals have
been withdrawn in recent days. Proponents of HB 6 say school resource
officers are too expensive for many small districts. Meanwhile, many
teachers lack the skills needed to respond to a school intrusion.
handgun carry permit person has not gone through any type of combat
training," Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch said. "They've not gone
through any type of psychological testing to see if they're even
prepared for combat. Gunfighting is a science that has to be trained.
It's not something you learn (by) just picking up a gun and shooting at a
The bill would limit handguns to teachers who are
commissioned as police officers or are retired from police work. That
description could apply to teachers in a school's criminal justice
program, a police officer-turned-teacher or a volunteer with police
experience, said the bill's sponsor, state Rep. Eric Watson, a former
captain in the Bradley County Sheriff's Office.
administrators would have to agree before a staffer could begin carrying
a weapon. Staffers also would have to undergo training in school
The Senate version includes a provision that would keep
the public from knowing whether a district lets teachers carry guns or
which teachers are armed. The amendment was added after state Sen. Mark
Green, R-Clarksville, expressed concern that a gunman would ask for a
list of armed teachers while planning an assault.
appears to have broad support. But some Democrats have expressed
reservations about the idea, arguing that teachers should not be armed,
even those with police experience.
"Teachers need to have one
focus; that focus needs to be teaching," said state Rep. Gloria Johnson,
a teacher. "I'm fine with SROs. We've got two at the school where I
teach. But we need to be careful with that. ... You can't have two jobs
like that, and you can't constantly be wondering what's going on out in