Officials disagree with proposed legislation to arm teachersPublished 6:09pm Saturday, December 29, 2012
A state lawmaker announced last week his plans to file a bill in the next session of the Alabama Legislature, allowing some school faculty members in Alabama schools to be armed. This legislation would relieve some school systems that cannot afford to have resource officers, school systems such as Dallas County and the city of Selma.
Local school officials and law enforcement officials in the community spoke out about the pre-filed bill proposed by State Rep. Kerry Rich, Republican from Albertville. All said they are uncomfortable with school officials being armed, but they would not oppose a greater police presence in schools.
“What people don’t understand is that it’s not just about training for gun safety, it is a huge liability dealing with guns and especially with schools when you have hundreds of thousands of kids,” Selma Chief of Police William T. Riley said Friday. “They will have to make sure those guns are secure in those environments. We have students who are teacher aids and they are in and out of offices and you will have to make sure they do not have access to guns. It opens up a lot of issues arming teachers and principals and school faculty.”
Riley said weapon training is not just about how to fire a weapon but when.
“We are very conscientious about firing that weapon,” Riley said.
Riley explained school officials will have to be trained on use of force and the same philosophy of understanding the power of deadly force in the classroom.
“What will happen when these teachers feel threatened by a student or another teacher,” Riley asked. “What if they react by shooting the student because they thought they were in trouble? There are a lot of things that could happen. It’s not just an armed intruder coming in with a weapon. What about when a teacher is confronted by a student and they pull a gun to protect themselves, how will that work?”
Riley also said he doesn’t understand how the state’s stand your ground law would congeal with legislation allowing teachers to have guns.
“It’s not black and white, it’s not just that when an armed shooter comes into school the principal is armed and saves everyone. There are so many more factors to consider when you are dealing with children,” Riley said.
Both Riley and Dallas County Sheriff Harris Huffman, said they believe in the right to own guns, but are hesitant about more guns in schools.
“The school system would need to come up with a plan to hire more people to be a campus police officer that would handle situations at schools,” Huffman said. “As far as an individual who is not trained with a firearm and would not know how to react, I don’t think that is a very good idea.”
Riley and officials from both school systems had the same request after hearing about the legislation by Rich.
Rich said the legislation is specifically for those schools that need resource officers but cannot afford them. To that, Selma City Schools Superintendent of Education Gerald Shirley said legislation should focus on a way to make those resource officers a reality for schools like Selma schools.
“I think right now we would be acting prematurely. Right now emotions are running high and we are acting on emotions rather than just waiting to get the facts,” Shirley said. “People need to be highly trained. And security guards and police have extensive training that teachers do not have.
“Right now I am not really sold on arming teachers and principals, but what I think should happen is the state legislature should look into possibilities of providing more funds to local districts and then perhaps we could take that money and hire more local resource officers or security guards,” Shirley continued. “I hope someone would introduce a bill that will help us find funds for that.”
Shirley said then that would allow people who are specialized in securing buildings to be in control of dangerous situations, people who are trained and ready for violence and danger.
Don Willingham, assistant superintendent of Dallas County Schools, said his first reaction is that arming teachers would not be wise.
“We’ve not spoken with our board about the proposed legislation, but we will all be interested in its wording,” Willingham said. “However, my initial personal reaction is that I wouldn’t feel comfortable putting our personnel in that position. I know other people may have other opinions, but teaching is hard enough without having to make those type of decisions.”
Willingham said if teachers were to be trained on how to use the weapons, the training would be limited at best.
Willingham said he cannot speak for everyone in the system, including the superintendent, but he feels the same as Riley, Shirley and Huffman, in that resource officers would be the ideal solution to minimizing violence in schools.
“It’s sad we are even having this discussion, but hopefully this discussion will better prepare us to handle and react if a situation should occur,” Willingham said.