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Bill would let teachers with police background carry guns

9:04 PM, Apr 9, 2013   |    comments
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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 legislature.

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 local control.

"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.

The 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Most of those proposals have been withdrawn in recent days.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.

"That 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 flat target."

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.

School administrators would have to agree before a staffer could begin carrying a weapon. Staffers also would have to undergo training in school policing.

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.

The measure 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 the hall."

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