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HARRISBURG — It’s quite a long way from becoming law, but a push to let Pennsylvania teachers carry weapons to school sparked a clash of ideas in the Capitol on Wednesday.
State Sen. Don White, an Indiana County Republican, had promoted the same measure in 2014, arguing that teachers ought to have a better chance at protecting their students and themselves.
“The teachers who have come to me have said I want the opportunity to defend my children and defend my life, and give me something more powerful than an eraser to throw at these people,” White said Wednesday after a 9-3 committee vote moving his bill to the full Senate. “And I agree with them. What we see going on in this country, it’s shameless.”
Such legislation took off nationwide in the months after the 2012 massacre of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. In a report, the Council of State Governments said 33 states considered bills on the topic in the year after that shooting.
White’s bill would let Pennsylvania school boards decide if employees should be allowed to access guns on school grounds — but only if they have a license to carry a concealed firearm and obtain firearms training certification.
Gun-control advocates say arming teachers and school staffers isn’t the answer.
Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFirePA, noted that a 2013 report on violence prevention from the Joint State Government Commission opposed arming school administrators, teachers, or other workers who are not members of law enforcement.
That report raised concerns ranging from a lack of sufficient training to students disarming a teacher to the possibility that in an active-shooter situation, the armed school employee could be harmed by police.
“That’s not a hypothetical, that somebody who is a good guy with a gun could be mistaken for the bad guy with a gun,” Goodman said Wednesday.
The Pennsylvania State Education Association also criticized White’s proposal, with its president saying in a news release that arming teachers would make students less safe. The union noted that it does not oppose the use of “appropriately trained and armed” school safety workers.
Gov. Wolf’s office pledged a veto if the bill reaches his desk.
“Harrisburg can help schools be safer by giving them adequate funding so schools can hire trained security professionals like school resource or police officers should school professionals feel they need it, and counselors and support staff for students,” spokesman J.J. Abbott said in a statement.
One Democrat on the Senate Education Committee, Jim Brewster of Allegheny County, joined his GOP colleagues in approving the legislation. But where it heads next is unclear.
There is no plan at the moment for the full Senate to vote on the bill, said Jennifer Kocher, spokeswoman for Majority Leader Jake Corman (R., Centre).
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