A bill that would allow public school teachers or administrators who successfully complete a basic police course academy for reserve deputies to bring loaded handguns to school passed a legislative committee Wednesday.
It is the first Oklahoma school security measure advanced by lawmakers since the Sandy Hook massacre in December. Twenty children, ages 6 and 7, were shot and killed by a disturbed man in Newtown, Conn. Six adults also were killed.
Under House Bill 1062, local school boards would decide whether to allow trained teachers and administrators to be armed in their schools. Teachers and administrators would have to go through a six-week reserve officer training, through the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training, to be permitted to carry firearms on school campuses.
“I understand the controversy,” said Rep. Mark McCullough, the bill's author. “I understand the risks. … You could have misuse of a firearm, absolutely.
“I don't agree with letting people strap on a gun and walk into a school,” he said. “It's too sensitive of an environment.”
McCullough said his measure would allow each school district to develop its own security plans.
“There is nothing in this bill that prohibits a school district from hiring resource officers,” He said. “That's my stated preference. … The best choice is if we could staff each of our schools with a paid resource officer.”
Otherwise, he said, teachers and administrators could go through the same screening and training that reserve deputies go through.
Many details in his bill, such as who would pay for the training and equipment costs for teachers, still have to be worked out, McCullough said.
Training costs money
Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel said after the committee meeting that it could cost about $3,000 to train and equip each teacher. He said McCullough's bill has merit, especially in rural parts of the state that don't have available funds to hire school resource officers or deputies.
“They just don't have the money to hire a full-time school resource officer to put in those schools,” he said. “And rather than leave them unprotected, what this does is allow the board of education and the sheriff's or police department to work together and at least put a trained person inside that school.”
Whetsel said his department has resource officers throughout the county, in public schools such as Millwood and Deer Creek and Jones High School.
Monte Thompson, superintendent of Wagoner Public Schools, told committee members he opposed the measure. Oklahoma has had only three school shootings, and two of them — both in the past couple months — were suicides, he said.
“We're going to have more accidental shootings,” he said.
Thompson said he also questioned whether a teacher would be able to shoot a student opening fire on other students.
“There's a high likelihood of the student being the shooter than somebody off the street,” he said.
Some committee members questioned whether one teacher would be able to respond adequately to a shooting; often law enforcement officers put together a team of officers to react to a mass shooting.
Tulsa County Undersheriff Tim Albin, whose agency has about 140 reserve officers, said deputies have no guarantee of having assistance when they respond to calls.
“If you're the one guy there and there's an active shooter, you know what — it's just a bad day for you,” Albin said. “You've got to go find the shooter and take down the threat.”
The measure is in the early stages of possibly becoming law. The House of Representatives Public Safety Committee voted 8-3 to pass the bill.
It now goes to the full House. If it passes the House, it still must be taken up and passed in the Senate before it would go to the governor.
Group still meeting
The Oklahoma Commission on School Security, which met for the second time this week, likely will meet four or five times before issuing its findings in March, still in time for recommendations to be written into proposed bills. Gov. Mary Fallin said last month she would reserve judgment on proposed legislation until she has the opportunity to see what the commission recommends.
The panel has members from various fields, including police, school and community leaders. No lawmakers are on the commission.
“Why jump the gun?” asked Rep. Pat Ownbey, R-Ardmore, a committee member. “Why not wait until after that task force?”
“Part of our job is to bring ideas, just to think these things through,” McCullough said.
“It is still my duty as a legislator to bring forward ideas that I feel would solve the problem.
“I didn't just roll out of bed and file this, I've been thinking about it a long, long time … the potential for terrorists or madmen to strike soft targets,” said McCullough, whose two boys go to a public school.
The measure could be amended later to include recommendations from the task force, he said.
Rep. Tommy Hardin, R-Madill, a committee member, said he is concerned that a trained teacher would leave his students vulnerable while leaving the classroom to respond to a shooting or other violent act.
“There's not a perfect solution,” McCullough said.
But administrators and teachers in the Connecticut shooting, he said, ran to the shootings “with nothing in their hands when that happened and they didn't stop him.”