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Teachers with guns? Senate Bill 383 gives OK in Pa.

Patrick Varine
| Friday, April 21, 2017, 10:12 p.m.
A Senate bill which would allow school districts to permit properly trained and certified employees to carry firearms passed out of the Senate's Education Committee on April 19, 2017.
Patrick Connolly | For the Tribune-Review
A Senate bill which would allow school districts to permit properly trained and certified employees to carry firearms passed out of the Senate's Education Committee on April 19, 2017.
A Senate bill that would allow school districts to allow certified, trained employees to carry firearms passed out of the Senate's Education Committee on April 19, 2017.
Patrick Connolly | Tribune-Review
A Senate bill that would allow school districts to allow certified, trained employees to carry firearms passed out of the Senate's Education Committee on April 19, 2017.

State Sen. Don White wants to give school districts more options to keep students safe.

But according to several statewide education groups, allowing teachers to carry firearms on school property is not a viable option.

The Indiana County Republican's Senate Bill 383 — it was approved this week by a 9-3 vote of the bipartisan Senate Education Committee — would allow school districts to grant properly licensed and trained personnel access to firearms or permission to carry a concealed firearm.

White put forth similar legislation in 2014, which was not enacted.

“Since I first introduced this proposal, there has been much discussion about what the measure does and how it relates to current Pennsylvania law,” White said in a news release. “To be clear, this bill is not about the Second Amendment. It's about permitting the 500 school districts of this Commonwealth to have greater choices when it comes to protecting our most precious resource – our children.”

Ken Trump, president of Cleveland-based National School Safety and Security Services, said teachers are not trained law enforcement officers.

“It's a high-risk, high-liability proposition,” Trump said. “School districts are educational organizations; they're not police departments. Superintendents and principals are educators, not police chiefs. Police officers are trained to assess situations and make life-or-death decisions with every call they take.”

The bill's language mandates that any school district employee with access to a firearm have current certification in one of five education courses that provide basic firearms training. It does not propose a mechanism to fund that certification.

The nonprofit Education Law Center, with offices in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, also opposes the bill.

“There is reason to believe arming school personnel is more dangerous than the harm it seeks to avoid,” the center's executive director, Deborah Klehr, wrote in a March 27 letter to the Senate Education Committee. “Children are far more likely to be injured by self-inflicted gunshot wounds or in an accidental shooting resulting from another person's handling of an improperly stored or unsecured firearm than they are to be injured in an intentional act of gun violence while at school.”

White's Senate district includes the Franklin Regional School District, where 20 students and a security guard were injured in a 2014 knife attack.

Franklin Regional Superintendent Gennaro Piraino said he is following discussion of the bill but has not taken a position on it.

“The safety and security of my students, staff and community is always my paramount concern,” Piraino said. “This subject and legislation is very complex and has both intended and potential unintended impacts on all stakeholders in our community.”

Sen. Randy Vulakovich, R-Shaler, a co-sponsor of the bill, addressed concerns at a meeting with parents in the Fox Chapel School District Thursday evening.

“I'm a big believer that school districts can make this decision on their own,” he said.

White said that with time being a critical factor during a violent incident, his bill “gives trained school personnel the opportunity to serve as first responders.”

Trump said if a school district feels strongly enough that it needs a constant armed presence on campus, “put your money where your mouth is and invest in a school-based police presence. People cry poor when that comes up — well, you're going to pay a lot more if you have a liability issue involving a staff member with a firearm.”

The Pennsylvania State Education Association also opposes the bill. Spokesman Wythe Keever said turning school employees into first responders creates more problems than it solves.

“First responders arriving on scene at an armed confrontation might not be able to distinguish a perpetrator from a school employee,” he said. “We believe in making schools safer, but this bill is not the way to do it.”

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. He can be reached at 724-850-2862, pvarine@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MurrysvilleStar.

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