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Arkansas school staffers cannot tote guns on campus as guards, attorney general says

| Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013, 9:24 p.m.

LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas school districts cannot use a little-known state law to employ teachers and staffers as guards who can carry guns on campus, the state's attorney general said on Thursday in an opinion that likely ends a district's plan to arm more than 20 employees when school starts this year.

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, a Democrat, wrote in a legal opinion issued by his office that a state board that licenses private security agencies lacks the authority to allow districts to employ their teachers and staffers as security guards. A state lawmaker requested the opinion a day after The Associated Press reported on a plan by the Clarksville School District in western Arkansas to use more than 20 teachers and staffers as volunteer security guards armed with concealed 9mm handguns.

“Simply put, the code in my opinion does not authorize either licensing a school district as a guard company or classifying it as a private business authorized to employ its own teachers as armed guards,” McDaniel wrote.

David Hopkins, Clarksville's superintendent, said he had spoken with McDaniel about the opinion. Hopkins said he was still reviewing the opinion, but “it sounds like he's saying that we can't do the program.”

“Obviously we're going to comply with the law. We're not going to break the law,” said Hopkins, who had appeared on NBC's “Today” show to tout the program. “We wanted to provide the training and give the sense of a secure place for our parents and students. I tell you, this has really thrown a monkey wrench into it.”

The idea of arming schoolhouses against gunmen was hotly debated across the country after the school shooting in Connecticut last December that left 20 children and six teachers dead. The National Rifle Association declared it the best response to serious threats. But even in the most conservative states, most proposals faltered in the face of resistance from educators or warnings from insurance companies that schools would face higher premiums.

Participants in Clarksville's program are given a one-time $1,100 stipend to purchase a handgun and holster. Hopkins said the district is paying about $50,000 for ammunition and for training by Nighthawk Custom Training Academy, a private training facility in northwest Arkansas.

The 53-hour training program included roleplaying drills of school shootings, with teachers and staff using “airsoft” pellet guns, and with students wearing protective facemasks and jackets.

The Lake Hamilton School District has been using the same law for years to train a handful of administrators as security guards, but the guns are locked away and not carried by the administrators during the school day.

Lake Hamilton Superintendent Steve Anderson said he was talking with local prosecutors, school attorneys and other officials about how to proceed. Anderson said the district has had its license for 25 years.

“We'll take appropriate measures, and I imagine this is something that will eventually be settled in a court of law or the Legislature,” Anderson said.

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