Pennsylvania lawmakers advance bill allowing teachers to carry guns

Lawmakers in the Pennsylvania Senate Education Committee approved a bill Wednesday that would authorize school districts to allow trained teachers and other staff to carry guns on school property.

The committee voted in favor of the measure, Senate Bill 383, on a 9-3 vote, which will give the bill a chance to be considered by the full Senate, PennLive reported.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Don White, said the proposal would allow only employees trained in the safe handling of firearms to carry guns on school property.

“Teachers have come to me and said I want the opportunity to defend my children and to defend my life and give me something more powerful than an eraser to throw at these people,” White said Wednesday.

Several groups voiced strong opposition to the proposal, including the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the Education Law Center, CeaseFirePA and Moms Demand Action.

Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFirePa, voiced concerns over the bill’s lack of detail regarding how guns would be stored in schools and the fact that teachers would have to take training classes designed for law enforcement.

“I don’t think most people, especially a teacher who has too many kids in their class, who has to deal with kids, who loves those kids is the person we should be putting an additional burden on,” said Goodman.

Jerry Oleksiak, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, said his organization opposed the bill because they thought it would not make schools safer.

“PSEA is not opposed to the use of appropriately trained and armed school safety personnel in schools, like the school safety officers that some districts employ,” Oleksiak said in a statement. “What our association does oppose is arming teachers, education support professionals, and other school staff.

“PSEA is for strategies that keep students safe. This bill doesn’t keep students safe. That’s why we oppose it.”

Republican Sen. Ryan Aument highlighted the fact that the bill would not require teachers to carry firearms but merely give local school boards the authority to allow trained staff to do so.

“This bill would allow for conversations to take place at the local school district level where I think those conversations ought to take place,” Aument said. “We’re essentially reaffirming local control.”

Republican Sen. John DiSanto and Northern Lebanon School District Superintendent Don Bell seconded that notion, arguing the school boards should have the authority to make those decisions.

“It’s a tool that we should provide to school districts to figure out at the local level,” DiSanto said. “I just want to say it’s a sad commentary on our society in general that we have to be discussing this but I believe it’s very important.”

Despite the bill advancing out of its initial committee, Gov. Tom Wolf’s spokesman J.J. Abbott all but confirmed that Wolf would veto the measure if it makes it though the Senate and House.

“School personnel shouldn’t be told that the only help they will get from Harrisburg to make schools safer is the option to carry a loaded gun around their students,” said Abbott.

“Harrisburg can help schools be safer by giving them adequate funding so schools can hire trained security professionals like school resource or police officers should school professionals feel they need it, and counselors and support staff for students.”