The proposal to allow trained Oklahoma public school teachers to bring handguns to schools, which misfired earlier this session, has new life. But it may be short-lived.
A week after the governor signed four bills into law recommended by a special panel as a way to keep students safe, the House of Representatives approved an amendment Thursday that contained the text of House Bill 1062, which called for the arming of qualified teachers or administrators.
HB 1062 passed the House last month, but the chairman of a Senate committee decided not to give it a hearing.
Rep. Mark McCullough, R-Sapulpa, author of HB 1062, said he revived his measure because of requests from parents and teachers wanting some sort of response to a violent situation in schools.
He attached the amendment to Senate Bill 408, which would allow the director of the Council of Law Enforcement and Education Training to waive training requirements of certified law officers wanting to return to full-time active status.
Rep. Ben Sherrer, D-Choteau, said McCullough's move was “a symbolic punch in the lieutenant governor's gut,” referring to Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, who headed the Oklahoma School Security Commission which came up with the recommendations for school security.
He also called it the “ultimate spineless act by dumping this down on your local school board to have to make this very serious decision on this very serious issue.”
McCullough said he was not being disrespectful to Lamb, who was unavailable for comment Thursday.
“I wanted to give this another try,” he said. “I am telling you I have gotten a tremendous positive response by a lot of parents, teachers and administrators.”
Sen. Susan Paddack, author of SB 408, said she didn't support McCullough's amendment.
“I support having armed safety officers in our schools, but I do not support making our educators have to also become law enforcement officers,” said Paddack, D-Ada. “At this point I do not think that this language will be successful on the Senate side when it comes back over and we are given the opportunity to review and vote on it.”
The House voted 47-24 to adopt McCullough's amendment and voted 59-26 to adopt another amendment that would make the measure take effect immediately. McCullough said that was important so school teachers could get the firearms training this summer so they would be trained by the time classes start.
The House voted 69-25 to pass SB 408.
The measure heads to the Senate, where Paddack could seek to reject McCullough's amendment. If that occurs, the measure likely would go to a conference committee.
Sherrer criticized McCullough for bringing up his proposal again, saying it was a waste of time. His amendment contaminates an otherwise clean bill, and it will result in legislators having to spend more time to deal with it, he said.
Sherrer said lawmakers in both the House and Senate gave overwhelming approval to four bills that incorporated recommendations from Lamb's commission, which was formed as a result of the Sandy Hook Elementary School gun massacre in December. Twenty children, ages 6 and 7, and six adults were shot and killed by a disturbed man in Newtown, Conn.
None of the recommendations involved arming teachers or increasing the presence of guns in schools.
The measures called for creating an Oklahoma School Security Institute under the Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security; requiring more safety drills; requiring schools to report discovery of firearms in school to law officers; and requiring schools and institutes of higher learning to provide annually updated plans for protecting students, faculty and visitors from disasters and emergencies.
“Those address school safety in a reasonable, prudent manner that is not a knee-jerk reaction,” Sherrer said.
McCullough said under his measure school boards would pay for the cost of training; he estimates about 250 schoolteachers and administrators would volunteer to apply for the training in the first year the measure is in effect.
Teachers and administrators would volunteer for the training, according to the measure. It would take three weeks in order to complete a special reserve school resource officer course.
McCullough said the course is estimated to cost about $2,500 for each teacher or administrator, but it's possible some law enforcement agencies wouldn't charge a fee or that a private individual or group would pay the cost of the training.
Rep. Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City, who tried to get two amendments attached to McCullough's original bill, made another attempt Thursday; one would have provided vouchers to parents to send their children to private schools if they objected to having guns allowed in their public schools and the other would have made public schools provide cellphones in each grade in case of emergencies.
“It is my job, not a teacher's, to introduce guns to my children,” he said. “Parents should be empowered to take their children out of any school that allows guns in the classroom.”
Shelton was unsuccessful in getting the Republican-controlled House to suspend the rules in order to add his last-minute amendments.
I wanted to give this another try. I am telling you I have gotten a tremendous positive response by a lot of parents, teachers and administrators.”
Rep. Mark McCullough,
R-Sapulpa, author of HB 1062