New lawmaker says school personnel should carry guns
A freshman Pennsylvania lawmaker says he will introduce legislation that would allow teachers, principals, administrators and other school employees to carry guns on school property.
Rep. Greg Lucas, a Republican who represents parts of Erie and Crawford counties, has a personal familiarity with the issue.
Lucas, son of public school teachers and a former teacher, had a friend shot and killed during the 1998 Parker Middle School dance shooting at a restaurant in Edinboro.
Andrew Wurst, 14, shot and killed a 48-year-old man and wounded others. Wurst, now jailed, was stopped when confronted by the restaurant's owner, who was armed with a shotgun.
Lucas did not respond to an interview request. In a news release, he said he plans to introduce his “School Personnel Right to Carry Act” in the “near future.”
It would allow, but not require, school employees to carry a gun if they pass a three-point check system, consisting of the background check already required for employment in schools, the background check to obtain a license to carry a gun, and the same certification in the use of firearms used by law enforcement officers.
“This is about trusting our teachers to protect our students,” Lucas said in the statement. “We trust our teachers with our students' minds. However, current law prevents them from defending our children's bodies during an emergency situation. My law would change that.”
Locally, state Rep. Jeff Pyle, R-Ford City, said he thinks the legislation has legs. He said he talked briefly with Lucas about it, and expects to be a co-sponsor.
“I'm fine with this. I was a teacher,” Pyle said. “I kind of scratch my head. We put metal detectors in schools. If a gunman comes into the school, what good does that do? Give me an armed cop that can stop a potentially violent altercation, or a principal.”
Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, said he favors removing the “gun free zone” around schools so law-abiding people with a gun on their person or in a vehicle do not become criminals by carrying them there.
But he favors schools having armed police or security officers over arming teachers and staff.
Metcalfe said he is asking for state law to be clarified to ensure school districts are able to hire armed security and police officers.
“I think the majority of Pennsylvanians will support a school district being able to have armed security or armed police officers at the school,” he said. “I don't believe a majority will support broadening that to the point that teachers and administrators could all be carrying.
I think Rep. Lucas has good intentions. Legislatively, I don't think it's within our reach.”
While research shows school resource and law enforcement officers are effective in schools, there isn't any research supporting that putting more guns in schools will make them safer, said Don Smith, the emergency planning and response management coordinator with the Center for Safe Schools, near Harrisburg.
“Our position is that trained law enforcement are the people we think should be in the schools,” Smith said. “We don't see any research showing arming teachers reduces violent acts.”
Police are trained not just in how to shoot a gun, but in when to use it, and how to keep it.
“There's other training to make the officers assigned to schools highly qualified and highly trained,” he said. “It's more than hitting a paper target.”
The proposal raises many questions, including who will pay for training, certification and insurance, said New Kensington-Arnold Superintendent John Pallone, a former state lawmaker.
“It's a very well-intended proposal. I think it needs to be a little further thought through before it's implemented,” Pallone said. “I hope it includes funding for whatever resulting components come out of it.”
The Pennsylvania State Education Association, a statewide union representing teachers and other school employees, does not support allowing educators to be armed on school grounds, spokesman Wythe Keever said.
“The whole idea that educators in an armed confrontation can put down books and pick up guns is not only wrong-headed, it's dangerous,” Keever said. “There's real serious questions about how first responders arriving at the scene of a confrontation would be able to identify who's a shooter and who's an educator.”
The union does not oppose hiring and training armed security guards, Keever said.
“Teachers have full-time jobs,” Keever said. “They don't need more training on firearms. They need to focus on teaching children and leave the security of school buildings to the appropriate staff.”
There would be money available to hire armed guards, Keever said, “if Gov. Corbett and Rep. Lucas' party would end their support for corporate tax breaks and provide adequate funding for schools.”
If there are to be armed guards in schools, they should be current or retired police officers, said Highlands School Board Vice President Ryan Hanford.
Hanford — himself a Tarentum police officer — said he would not want teachers or principals to be armed.
“You can't just have a bunch of teachers armed in the school district,” Hanford said. “Now, you have a secondary concern.” he said.
South Butler School Board Vice President Debra Miller said she is not in favor of putting guns in schools, and opposed the recent decision to arm the school's police officers.
“I think there's a better way of protecting our children than arming our teachers,” she said. “I want our kids to stay innocent for as long as they possibly can. I don't want them to get to the point where seeing somebody with a gun in their school is commonplace.”
The Pennsylvania School Boards Association, which represents school directors in the state, has not taken a position on arming educators, spokesman Steve Robinson said.
Introducing guns into a school setting raises questions, and the association would have many concerns about doing so, he said.
“We hire administrators and teachers to educate our children, not to carry guns,” he said.
“We certainly would be very concerned that things not move too quickly without all the ramifications being considered. It should not be taken lightly.”
Leechburg Area Superintendent Jim Budzilek said each school district will have its own unique needs based on its demographics and facilities that will have to be considered before deciding what works best.
He has mixed feelings about arming school staff, which he said should be a local decision for each district.
“It's unfortunate it's come to this,” Budzilek said.
Brian C. Rittmeyer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4701 or firstname.lastname@example.org.