Educators Joseph Clay and Courtney Wheeler offered pointedly conflicting views Tuesday of a bill encouraging school districts and insurance companies to remove impediments to arming classroom teachers.
Clay, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran of combat in Iraq and a Wichita math teacher, said mass shootings, especially those carried out on school campuses, are a plague on society. The danger requires the state to pass legislation making it easier for school employees with a concealed-carry license to bring handguns to school, he said.
“The day will come when we’ll have to face this fear,” he said. “Our children are not safe on campus in Kansas.”
Wheeler, who teaches history and government at Olathe Northwest High School, said arming teachers wouldn’t make anyone feel safer.
“My job is to educate,” said Wheeler, wife of a U.S. Navy sailor. “I am against this bill because I am against the militarization of our teachers. More guns is not the answer.”
The House Insurance Committee completed a two-hour hearing on House Bill 2789 but took no vote on the school-safety measure. It would expand upon a 2013 Kansas law granting school districts the authority to decide whether personnel could carry hidden firearms into school buildings. Apparently, no Kansas district has done so.
Under the House bill, districts that declined to allow staff to carry hidden handguns would be presumed negligent if sued in the aftermath of a school shooting. Districts authorizing concealed-carry in schools “shall” allow any employee with a conceal-and-carry license to bring a firearm to work, the bill says. The identity of district staff members carrying guns would be confidential under the Kansas Open Records Act.
The bill would block companies writing insurance policies for school districts from charging discriminatory premiums or declining coverage to districts that authorized employees to carry concealed weapons.
The National Rifle Association’s “Eddie the Eagle” firearm training curriculum would be taught in Kansas public schools under the bill. However, the legislation wouldn’t provide funding to train employees in firearm safety nor outline conditions under which the right to carry could be revoked by a district.
Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, said the bill was a practical response to reluctance by school boards and administrators to authorize concealed-carry in classrooms. It would address the flurry of mass public shootings in “gun-free zones” targeted by rogues intent on doing harm in a place where they were unlikely to meet armed resistance, he said.
“Over 170 school districts in Texas alone have teachers and district employees who participate in their school marshal program,” Masterson said.
Rep. Blake Carpenter, R-Derby, said the bill should be adopted because a school resource officer was unlikely to be in position to respond quickly enough to engage an active shooter. Schools have teachers, janitors, counselors, food service employees and others on staff throughout the buildings who can be instantly deployed in emergencies, he said.
“Inside our schools there are sleeping dogs willing to protect our kids,” he said.
Rep. Brett Parker, an Overland Park Democrat and opponent of the bill, said the eight-hour training regimen tied to obtaining a concealed-carry license in Kansas couldn’t transform a teacher with a handgun into a marksman capable of competing with an attacker armed with an assault rifle.
“If we’re going to fund me getting extra training beyond that eight hours, I’d rather it make me a better teacher,” Parker said.
Michael Tabman, who served in the FBI for 24 years, said the bill was bad public policy. He was special agent in charge of the Red Lake High School massacre in 2005 that left 10 Minnesota students, teachers and community members dead.
He said reliable studies and statistics showed the presence of a weapon was many times more likely to result in “unnecessary tragedy than save a life,” he said.
Even highly trained law enforcement personnel have difficulty hitting targets in live-fire exercises, he said. When police officers reach the scene of a school shooting, he said, it would be difficult to recognize the role played by an armed teacher.
“For the money that will be spent arming, training and insuring teachers, we can invest in more police officers assigned to schools,” Tabman said. “Creating more danger to give the illusion of security is not the answer.”
Mark Desetti, who represents the National Education Association in Kansas, said students expected their teachers to remain at their side during an assault rather than walk away from them with gun in hand. Security should be the domain of law enforcement officers and school resource officers, he said.
“We don’t want to be paid to carry guns,” he said. “We want to be paid for teaching.”
Nick Diegel, an Overland Park resident and parent of a Blue Valley district student, said the bill would punish school districts for declining concealed-carry by employees. It is likely that liability portion of the bill will be removed.
He also made reference to Rep. Willie Dove, a Bonner Springs Republican who last year removed a handgun from an ankle holder and accidentally left it on the floor of a House committee meeting room. Dove is also a member of the House committee considering the bill.
“Who will be deemed negligent when a teacher follows the lead of one of our elected representatives and leaves that weapon unattended within reach of a student?” Diegel said.