Pennsylvania GOP gubernatorial candidates open to arming teachers

Three candidates vying for the Pennsylvania Republican party’s nomination in this year’s gubernatorial race expressed support for arming school teachers during a televised debate last week.

GOP state Sen. Scott Wagner, lawyer Laura Ellsworth and former health care systems consultant and Army veteran Paul Mango detailed their respective positions on the controversial policy proposal floated at both state and federal levels as a defense against school shootings.

“I think every school district should develop a security plan that meets the threats and the needs of that local school district,” Mango said. “If that includes arming the teachers, that’s up to them, not the state.”

Wagner said teachers “with extensive training” deserve the ability to carry firearms on school grounds. He and 27 other state senators approved a measure in June allowing school districts to develop individual weapons policies for teachers and staff. The state House Education Committee will consider Senate Bill 383 and other proposals to ensure school safety at hearing scheduled for March 15.

“With my plan as governor, we will have armed, trained security officers in schools around the state,” Wagner said.

Ellsworth said she supported arming teachers, so long as it wasn’t a requirement. “But if you have a teacher who requests permission and they are fully trained and licensed to have a firearm, I think they should be permitted to do so,” she said.

Preventing mass shootings and other attacks at Pennsylvania schools has been a point of contention in the state Legislature for the better part of a decade. Some 501 school districts spread across more than 2,500 municipalities, two-thirds of which rely on state police coverage. Several rural school districts encompass hundreds of square miles, leading to delayed response times, according to the SB 383’s prime sponsor, Republican Sen. Don White.

“There are thousands of armed teachers and administrators in schools across the country and there has never been an incident where they have shot the wrong person, had their weapons taken by a student, or used a weapon inappropriately,” he said.

The idea gained traction nationally after President Donald Trump pushed for the policy in the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida last month.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, has repeatedly called SB 383 and other proposals to arm teachers “a bad idea,” though he supports hiring trained security guards and counselors.

Voters will chose May 15 whether Mango, Wagner or Ellsworth will challenge Wolf for governor this fall. Only Ellsworth said she’d reject campaign donations from the National Rifle Association.

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