House committee kills bill authorizing teachers to carry guns; ‘School Safety Act’ advances

A  bill authorizing teachers to carry guns in classrooms was voted down in a House committee Tuesday after an outpouring of opposition following earlier approval in a subcommittee. Only four members of the 13-member House Education and Planning Committee had themselves recorded as voting in favor of the bill sponsored by Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) as it was defeated on a voice vote.

On the other hand, the “School Safety Act of 2018,” which would to provide more funding to hire off-duty law enforcement officers to patrol schools (HB2129, as amended) has won approval in committees of both the House and Senate. The measure, introduced originally as a caption bill, is sponsored by Rep. Micah Van Huss (R-Gray) and Sen. Mark Green (R-Ashland City).

From WPLN on the armed teachers bill:

The measure technically would not have been the first to authorize educators to have guns — a law already on the books allows educators in two rural counties to carry, if they can get police training — but backers of HB 2208 argued that the hurdles are so high, no teacher has ever qualified.

So they proposed letting outside groups such as the National Rifle Association or private instructors offer training to teachers who wanted to go armed. HB 2208 also would’ve opened the door to any district allowing armed teachers, as an alternative to having professional police officers in schools.

Gun rights groups often argue that an armed teacher could be a last line of defense in an active shooter situation. But opponents of the measure, counter that confronting heavily armed intruders is best left to law enforcement.

“Armed civilians are very ineffective responders in active shooting situations,” said Linda McFayden-Ketchum of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “Not just in schools but in every situation. It’s just extraordinary for someone with a gun to be able to stop an active shooter, so we thought it was ineffective and just dangerous.”

That argument is what seemed to defeat the proposal. Several Tennessee lawmakers agreed it would be better if educators avoided taking on gunmen. They asked, who would shepherd students to safety if their teacher were trying to track down a shooter? And if that teacher were to find him, what good would it do?

“A teacher with a handgun taking on an intruder with an AR-15 is bringing a slingshot to a bazooka festival,” said state Rep. Roger Kane, R-Knoxville.

Further from the Times Free Press:

Rep. Eddie Smith, R-Knoxville, sharply criticized the measure, bluntly telling Byrd, “To be honest with you, it feels like the bill’s been put together on the back of a napkin and held together with bubble gum and duct tape.”

…Republican Gov. Bill Haslam was never a fan of Byrd’s legislation. After the Parkland, Fla., massacre that killed 17 people, the governor assembled a working group of educators, law enforcement and mental health professionals to make recommendation.

The governor is also recommending in his proposed 2018-2019 budget $25 million in one-time grants for safety enhancements such as electronically locking doors, cameras and other equipment, and another $5.2 million in recurring money.

The recurring money can be combined with an existing $5.2 million for a total of $10.4 million that can be used in areas like paying salaries of more school resource officers. Following defeat of Byrd’s bill, there’s talk among lawmakers of scouring the governor’s proposed budget for additional funds.

Meanwhile, Byrd said later that he thinks his legislation did prompt action.

“The bill was really to shed a light on the schools without SROs, and 60 percent of our students are without SROs. … I think we are going to see a lot more money that has been re-appropriated to school safety,” Byrd said. “So I’m very optimistic that our schools without SROs will be getting funds.”

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