In the wake of the mass killing of children at a Connecticut elementary school last week, an Oklahoma lawmaker said Monday teachers and principals should have the option of bringing guns to school.
“This sacrosanct notion that we cannot do anything but have gun-free zones is just a fallacy,” said Rep. Mark McCullough, R-Sapulpa. “What we're dealing with here is people who don't care. They've erased their moral compass. They don't care about the law, and they are intent on horrific acts.”
McCullough pledged to introduce legislation in the upcoming session to allow principals and teachers who go through training to be able to carry firearms on school property.
Several educators said Monday they aren't interested.
“I could not be in more opposition to that idea,” Sapulpa Superintendent Kevin Burr said. “Schools are not a place where we should be arming combatants. ...
“Our job as educators is to try to create an educational environment and try to teach students how to love one another and try to get along with one another so these kinds of tragedies that occurred in Connecticut never happen again. That's our job. Our job's not to try to kill an intruder.”
The idea is unsafe, said Ed Allen, president of the Oklahoma City American Federation of Teachers.
“I don't think the answer to our gun problem is add more guns into the equation,” Allen said. “I don't think he probably really understands how schools operate. Schools can be emotional places at times. Kids can get emotional. Teachers can get emotional. Parents come in emotional. Throw weapons into that mix, and it can be dangerous.”
But in light of the Connecticut shooting, Allen said, educators, law enforcement, parents and the community should be talking about how to keep children safe.
McCullough said his planned bill is not a knee-jerk reaction but rather a solution to the problem of school safety he has considered for a while.
McCullough said many teachers and principals would be willing to go through the training provided by the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training to be able to better protect their students.
“The idea is let's take a readily available resource — people that have buy-in, they care about kids — and let's train them to the level of police officers and put them back in their schools,” McCullough said. “I fear an accident or someone getting a gun away from a trained professional much less than I fear someone coming on campus and wreaking the kind of havoc that was done last week.”
Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, said the events on Friday hit everyone hard.
“I don't want to politicize anything,” Bingman said, “but I think at some point, rational minds need to sit down and ensure you have safe schools.”
Lawmakers have until 4 p.m. Jan. 17 to file bills. Legislative leaders will have time to sift through the proposed bills that deal with school safety and come up with a plan, Bingman said.
Sen. Ralph Shortey, R-Oklahoma City, took the proposed legislation a step further and said he'd allow any teacher or principal with an open-carry permit to bring a firearm to school.
“I can go into any elementary school in my district and walk through any door,” Shortey said. “When citizens have the liberty to protect themselves, they will do so, and they will do so responsibly.”
Federal law bans firearms from school zones, and state law does the same. Some exceptions are allowed, such as law enforcement. Firearms are also allowed for specific, school-approved events, such as a hunter education class, a shooting team or a history re-enactment.
A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education said officials did not have an immediate answer about how federal law would affect the ability for Oklahoma teachers to carry guns to work.
McCullough said he thinks his bill would hold its own in court against the federal law.
“They've got a federal law that does not essentially work,” he said. “It would create a constitutional crisis, perhaps, but a short-lived one.”
Several educators opposed McCullough's idea. Superintendents from the state's two largest school districts — Oklahoma City and Tulsa — expressed concern about the idea.
“I am not interested in arming teachers and administrators with weapons in our school district, but clearly something needs to happen,” Oklahoma City Superintendent Karl Springer said. “It would make more sense if funding could be made available to increase law enforcement presence.”
Tulsa Public Schools has its own 23-member police force, Superintendent Keith Ballard said. On-campus law enforcement has dramatically reduced crime. He wouldn't expect the same result from allowing teachers to have guns.
“Arming teachers and principals is not the answer if we are looking to make schools safe,” he said. “Ultimately, the best defense is open communication.”
Liberty Superintendent Donna Campo said she wants to see more information about McCullough's plan before deciding how she feels. Her school district is in Mounds, just south of Tulsa in Creek County.
In a rural area like Mounds, law enforcement could be slow to respond because of long travel times, she said, so the district hired a school resource officer last fall.
Chad Coomer, director of curriculum for Glenpool Public Schools, said he and the school resource officer spent Monday doing walk-throughs of all the district schools, looking for possible security improvements.
One of the best defenses, he said, is strong relationships among students, staff and families.
“Talk about it,” he said. “That's been our response. ... If you hear something, if you see something, share it. Talk about it.”
Child safety is the top priority of schools, and that could mean allowing administrators to have weapons, said Ginger Tinney, executive director Professional Oklahoma Educators.
“I do think that time is of the essence when we're faced with something this crazy and catastrophic,” Tinney said. “If we had a principal that had a weapon, yeah, I think that would be OK. Otherwise they're just sitting ducks. They have no way to protect themselves.”
Learning how to respond to active shooter situations is a complex and intensive part of law enforcement training, said Stan Florence, director of the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.
Members of the public armed with guns are not only less effective in responding to these types of situations, but there is a chance they could make the problem worse.
“It's hard enough when you're trained to go into an active shooting situation to make sure the rounds you fire go where they're intended to,” Florence said. “You'd just have to really consider that if you're someone carrying a weapon, especially in a setting where there's a lot of innocent bystanders.”