The West Virginia Senate has already approved legislation that would allow those with valid concealed carry licenses to lawfully carry on college and university campuses, and there’s a good chance the state House will soon follow suit. That’s not the only piece of legislation dealing with bearing arms in a school setting that lawmakers are considering, however. There’s also a House bill that would allow school districts to sign off on armed staff members in K-12 schools, and that too is starting to make progress.
The proposal passed the House Education Committee on Wednesday, just one day after the state Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill that would permit the carrying of firearms on college and university campuses. It will now go before the House Judiciary Committee.
The bill advanced despite concerns shared by a school safety administrator with the state Department of Homeland Security – the agency that would be training educators to carry guns at school.
“I have concerns – I have major concerns,” Homeland Security School Safety and Security Administrator Ron Arthur said during Wednesday’s meeting. “I’ve survived several gun fights and I know what it’s like to carry a deadly weapon every day, and to have that burden. I would not want to ask that of a teacher, out of nothing but love and respect for every teacher I know.”
Arthur did not explicitly say whether he was for or against the bill.
If the legislation required teachers to carry while on the job, I’d share Arthur’s concerns. But if teachers volunteer to take on that burden, why shouldn’t they be allowed to do so, especially if the school district that employs them wants to have armed staff members in place?
“It’s one more tool in the toolbox that can be utilized to protect the lives of our children out there,” Smith said. “Does it have to be used? No. But it’s a tool that’s available.”
The bill would allow districts in West Virginia to designate one or more teachers, school personnel and administrators as “school protection officers” – a voluntary position for which they would receive no additional compensation to their salaries.
There are plenty of rules that both school districts and individual staffers would have to follow, including a behavioral threat assessment for all those volunteering. Once they’ve been vetted, they would be trained by the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security, and would be allowed to carry a handgun or a stun gun on campus. Failure to keep the firearm and ammunition under their personal control would be cause for termination, according to the bill, and the school’s designation of any staff members as “protection officers” could be rescinded at any time.
West Virginia has a lot of rural school districts where an immediate law enforcement response to an emergency is going to be difficult, and it’s equally tough for those rural school districts to come up with the funds for dedicated school resource officers for each campus. There will undoubtably be plenty of districts that choose not to adopt these policies if the legislation becomes law, but I’m with Del. Smith in thinking this should at least be an option available to them.