Red States Arm Teachers, Fortify Buildings in Another Year of School Shootings
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As the school year, marked by numerous mass shootings, comes to a close in the United States, Republican-led state legislatures have enacted measures aimed at strengthening school security. These measures include establishing guidelines for active shooter drills and safety officer responses, as well as allowing teachers to carry firearms.
However, these red states have shown reluctance to impose restrictions on firearms in an effort to prevent school shootings.
Gun safety advocates and national education experts have expressed concerns about the approach taken by Republican lawmakers in states such as Georgia, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah. They argue that introducing more guns into schools only puts children and educators at greater risk.
Republican lawmakers, however, believe that the key to preventing school shootings lies in empowering schools to respond more effectively to an active shooter, rather than banning certain weapons or disarming potentially dangerous individuals.
Soon after a tragic shooting incident at a Nashville elementary school, where three children and three adults lost their lives, the Republican-controlled Tennessee legislature passed a comprehensive school safety bill. Notably, this bill did not include any firearm restrictions. Instead, it focused on measures such as keeping exterior doors locked when students are present, mandating the installation of classroom door locks in newly built public schools, and conducting active shooter drills in private schools as well. The bill received bipartisan support and was signed into law by Republican Governor Bill Lee.
Another example comes from Texas, where a year after a devastating shooting that claimed the lives of 19 students and two teachers, Republicans passed a bill requiring armed security guards at every school and compelling school districts to adopt active shooter plans.
Mississippi also passed a measure in March allowing teachers to carry firearms in schools after receiving extensive training.
Proponents of these laws argue that arming school personnel acts as a deterrent to potential shooters. By making it known that schools have armed security, they hope to dissuade individuals from targeting schools.
However, critics like Democratic state Senator Rod Hickman, who voted against the Mississippi measure, express concerns about the safety implications of arming teachers and personnel. They emphasize the need for comprehensive training not only in handling firearms but also in addressing implicit biases that may affect how armed school personnel perceive certain individuals, particularly people of color.
In Missouri, where rural areas face challenges in terms of law enforcement response time, Republican state Representative Christina Dinkins introduced legislation to expand the role of school protection officers beyond designated teachers and administrators. This expansion could potentially include other personnel such as janitors, who possess a comprehensive understanding of the school buildings.
Overall, Republican-led state legislatures have prioritized empowering schools to respond quickly to active shooters by implementing various security measures and allowing selected personnel to carry firearms. However, these approaches have been met with criticism from those who argue for stricter firearm restrictions and comprehensive training to ensure the safety of students and educators.
In March, the bill proposed by the state House was successfully passed, signaling the end of the legislative session.
According to Allison Anderman from the Giffords Law Center, it is incredibly challenging to prevent a person with an AR-15 and multiple high-capacity magazines from carrying out a violent act.
There has been a growing discussion about the presence of firearms in schools. Julie Hutchinson, a social worker in the Clark County school district in Nevada, experienced the aftermath of a mass shooting in 2017 and has since dealt with various gun-related issues in her work. Hutchinson believes that having more guns in schools will not contribute to a safer environment. Instead, it might give a false sense of security without making a significant difference when faced with a real threat.
Many experts agree with Hutchinson’s stance. Justin Heinze, co-director of the National Center for School Safety, highlights the lack of evidence supporting the idea that having firearms in schools increases safety. The introduction of more guns could potentially lead to an increase in firearm-related injuries. With the rise in school shootings and the exposure of more students to such incidents, there is an urgent need for further research on guns in schools.
Allison Anderman from the Giffords Law Center states that schools are generally safe from gun violence due to restrictions on firearms. She argues against arming teachers, as it is unrealistic to expect them to successfully stop an active shooter. The difficulty of neutralizing a heavily armed individual with an AR-15 and high-capacity magazines is a significant concern.
Anderman suggests that policies such as banning high-capacity magazines, implementing waiting periods for firearm purchases, and expanding red flag laws could help prevent school shootings. However, these measures are challenging to implement in certain states due to opposition.
Utah Republican state Rep. Karianne Lisonbee believes that teachers should have the ability to protect themselves and others during active shooter situations. She sponsored legislation that waived the permitting fee for school employees to carry concealed weapons in schools. Lisonbee also supported bills that empowered school resource officers and established a state position responsible for setting standards for those officers. All three measures were signed into law by the Republican Governor in March.
In Tennessee, the issue of gun violence is still being addressed by the legislature. Governor Lee, a Republican, called for a special session to discuss the implementation of a red flag law. Gun safety experts argue that such a law could have potentially prevented a shooting incident in Nashville. However, discussions are ongoing to ensure that innocent individuals are not unfairly impacted by the law.
Gun rights advocates often argue that red flag laws violate the due process rights of gun owners, as judges can issue temporary protection orders without a comprehensive hearing. Gun safety advocates counter this argument, stating that individuals can present evidence in their defense at a later stage.
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