Ed Committee Hears Pros, Cons Of Guns In Schools
By Victoria Wicks
School teachers, administrators, guards, and volunteers can carry concealed weapons in South Dakota schools if proposals in a bill become law. House Bill 1087 provides that school boards can decide, at the local level, whether to allow school personnel to carry weapons as part of a program of school safety.
Representative Scott Craig of Rapid City says schools won’t have to allow guns on the premises, and individual teachers and administrators won’t be required to carry guns if they don’t want to.
But he says for schools that can’t afford liaison police officers, this bill gives options.
“Perpetrators like the one in Aurora, Colorado, or the one in Newtown, Connecticut, are not looking for a fair fight,” Craig says. “If they did, they would go down to the local police department. But they are looking for multiple defenseless targets. It’s called a soft target.”
Craig says if only some schools have armed personnel, shooters are deterred from attacking any school, not knowing which ones might offer resistance.
Representative and bill sponsor Steve Hickey points out that arming workers is just part of a more comprehensive solution: “There’s not a one-size-fits-all fix as we’re hearing in the various districts that are throughout our state.”
Hickey says other fixes include mental health awareness, training teachers to identify early warning signs of children with a propensity for violence, and restricting access to the building.
Opposition to the bill comes from people associated with education, and in particular from school personnel who have military backgrounds.
One of them is Lt. Colonel Orson Ward, vice-president of Lead-Deadwood school board.
He tells the Education Committee that there’s a skill set involved in weapons defense.
“Shooting a paper target is drastically different than being able to maintain your fine motor skills, control your breathing, focus on center of mass on another human being, and take the shot,” he says.
Ward says accidents are inevitable. Even weapons-trained soldiers can accidentally discharge a round when clearing a barrel.
Proponents say the bill offers local control to school boards, but Wade Pogany, executive director of the Associated School Boards of South Dakota, says the decision is too important to leave to various school districts.
“The question is not ‘Should we give school boards local control?’” he says. “The question is, ‘Is it acceptable to allow teachers and administrators to carry firearms in a school with children?’”
Pogany says more guns in schools makes schools dangerous.
Time ran out before committee members could discuss the bill, and chairwoman Jacqueline Sly deferred the issue to Friday.