INDIANAPOLIS – A bill targeting school safety would now mandate at least one loaded gun in all of Indiana’s 1,915 public schools.
The House Education Committee added the amendment requiring an armed school protection officer in all public schools to Senate Bill 1 on Tuesday, then passed the legislation 9-3.
Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said he’s supportive of the concept of hardening schools against outside attacks.
We need some way to defend the children if someone breaks through security, some armed resistance, he said.
He said open knowledge of an armed presence is a deterrent but having a law enforcement officer in every school is cost-prohibitive.
According to the bill, a school protection officer would be required in each school and must be on the property during regular school hours and carry a loaded firearm.
That person could be a teacher or other school employee who has volunteered and undergone additional training.
Or the district might have to hire someone, though there is no money in the bill to train employees or hire outside guards.
Long stressed that the language of the bill – particularly training required of the person – is important.
Gov. Mike Pence avoided a question in December on arming teachers with guns.
Press secretary Kara Brooks responded Tuesday by saying Gov. Pence believes that decisions about school safety and security should be made by local schools, with support from the state.
She said Pence began working on this issue as soon as he took office and has assembled a broad group of experts who are assessing the risks that are facing our schools and exploring best practices.
We want to support local efforts to make schools as safe as possible so our teachers can focus on the education of our children, and our children can simply be kids, Brooks said.
Legislators in the House Education Committee said Tuesday the program will work only if the public buys into the training.
We need to assure the public these people know what they are doing, said Rep. Woody Burton, R-Whiteland.
This is about safety against people who want to come into schools and kill people. We want someone trained to stop them before they kill 25 people.
Frank Bush, on behalf of the Indiana School Boards Association, said the bill could be a significant unfunded mandate if no one volunteers and someone must be hired with a salary and benefits.
He said multiple protection officers might actually be needed because the bill requires them on the property during all regular school hours, and staff members at times might be absent or have to leave the property.
The bill now goes to the House Ways and Means Committee to assess fiscal concerns.
Attorney General Greg Zoeller has pushed the original bill, which addresses voluntary school resource officers.
School resource officers usually are full-time law enforcement officers assigned to a school from a local law enforcement agency to focus on school safety.
But they aren’t required by law, and it is estimated only one-quarter to one-third of Indiana school corporations have resource officers.
The bill would provide a grant-matching system to help schools hire more school resource officers.
Zoeller said the bill originally was about security inside the schools but morphed into a focus on safety at the door after the Newtown school shooting.
He didn’t want to talk specifically about the amendment but generally said schools should have some discretion in these talks because not all schools are the same.
As a rule, I’m a supporter of giving more flexibility to local leaders, Zoeller said.
Schools already have an option. Under current Indiana law, if schools designate teachers as school safety officers, they already can bring guns inside their schools.
Rep. Sue Errington also said the mandate for an armed person doesn’t apply to private schools.
If you believe this is the way to protect children, why not private schools as well as public schools – especially if they are taking public dollars? she asked.
Russ Skiba, director of The Equity Project at Indiana University, testified that the majority of school shooting incidents in the last 20 years have not involved an external threat.
Instead, they are the result of issues inside the school, including bullying.
Safety is not just about protecting children from outsiders, he said.