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School protection officer: A designated person at each building, likely an existing school employee in many cases, who would have a gun.
School resource officer: A graduate of Indiana’s law enforcement academy, usually a police officer, hired to be present during designated hours, both for security and to interact with students.

Ill-advised firepower in schools

After the mass slayings at that Connecticut elementary school last December, gun rights advocates cautioned against adopting gun-control laws before fully weighing their consequences. But gun rights advocates in the Indiana General Assembly are poised to rush a guns-in-all-schools bill into law with little thought about unintended consequences or keeping children from the loaded weapons.

In addition, the bill would hand local schools an unfunded mandate: It includes no money for the armed “school protection officer” the bill would require each school to have.

An amendment the House Education Committee adopted last week offers precious little information about training for those school officers. It states only that a seven-member board – with just two representatives of the education community – would establish the standards. And the bill says nothing about safety precautions for the weapon. Many gun owners understand the difficulty in having a weapon that is both immediately available for protection and inaccessible to others. And when hundreds of children are around, the stakes are unfathomably high.

Several studies have found, for example, that a gun in a home is far more likely to cause the death of someone who lives in the home than to be used in self-defense.

The amendment also assumes that each school protection officer will be at school every day, will never call in sick or deal with a family emergency. The bill makes no mention of a backup or deputy or designee.

The proponents assume that in each school, at least one existing employee will volunteer to be the school protection officer. But there is no mention in the bill about who pays for the training, most likely meaning that local schools would. And if no existing employee or outside volunteer steps up, schools apparently would have to hire someone.

The amendment is part of a bill that offers matching funding to school districts to hire school resource officers. (See glossary.) But that funding would help pay for only a handful of officers, at best. A school district with more than 1,000 students would receive just $50,000 for all its schools; one with fewer than 1,000 students would get $35,000. However, a single charter school would qualify for the same amounts. Private schools – including those that accept taxpayer-funded vouchers – would not be included.

Perhaps the worst element of the bill is that it gives local schools no choice. Gov. Mike Pence, state schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz and Senate President Pro Tem David Long all say that the decision should be up to local school districts and not mandated by the state.

Having armed civilians in schools raises disturbing questions, both regarding safety and regarding the purpose of the educational system. Even trained police officers sometimes wound bystanders when attempting to thwart a crime or capture a criminal. And if police have to respond to a school emergency, how will they know whether that person holding a gun is a criminal or a volunteer school protection officer?

Clearly, lawmakers are seeking to rush an ill-considered, badly drafted proposal into law. It should be defeated.