NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The head of the state’s largest teachers’ union said she expects her board to take an official position against proposals that would allow teachers to carry guns.
The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/VHKrcd) reports the measures are among proposals state lawmakers are considering this legislative session in the wake of last month’s massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
A gunman fatally shot 26 people — most of them children — inside the school Dec. 14. He also killed his mother and himself.
Several Tennessee lawmakers have drafted legislation that would encourage school districts to place at least one armed police officer in every school and would allow teachers who have undergone special training to bring their personal handguns into schools.
However, Tennessee Education Association president Gera Summerford said a “teacher’s job is to nurture and teach,” not to stop an intruder.
“Their main concern is to keep children safe and do what is best for the children, and that is different from being on the front line as a guard,” she said.
The gun issue is on the agenda for a TEA meeting in two weeks, according to The Tennessean.
The National Education Association and Professional Educators of Tennessee also oppose allowing teachers to be armed. Gov. Bill Haslam and House Speaker Beth Harwell, both Republicans, have also expressed skepticism.
In an interview shortly after the Newtown shooting, Haslam said changes to Tennessee’s gun laws should be done using a “holistic approach” that also could include increased funding for mental health services and more school resource officers.
“What if the teacher doesn’t want to be armed?” he said. “I’ve never seen a survey, but I bet if you went out and polled elementary school teachers, I bet you wouldn’t get an overwhelming number of them who carry.”
Harwell said last week through a spokeswoman that she prefers more resource officers.
“She favors properly trained armed personnel in our schools to protect our children,” spokeswoman Kara Owen said. “Fifty percent of our schools already have this in the form of school resource officers, so if we can increase that number within fiscal constraints, she would favor that.”
However, some state lawmakers, as well as a few local officials, have a different idea. At least two bills are in the works that would let teachers carry guns. And Mt. Juliet has proposed a resolution to waive all fees for Wilson County teachers who want to take the city’s handgun training course.
“My suggestion is to allow more teachers to obtain conceal carry permits and (change the laws) to allow those to carry (a weapon) on school grounds,” Mayor Ed Hagerty said. “Then you don’t need an armed officer at every school.”
State Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster, is proposing a measure that would let teachers with handgun carry permits bring their guns to school, with the permission of the local school system.
The bill also would require teachers to go through special training, and it would allow them to load their guns only with “frangible bullets,” ammunition designed to break apart to minimize the risk of ricocheting.
State Sen. Frank Niceley said he has drafted a bill that would require districts to assign at least one resource officer, typically a sheriff’s deputy or other armed police officer, to every school or to allow teachers to go armed.
“There seems to be a lot of interest in it,” said the Knoxville Republican. “I’ve had very, very little negative response, at least from people in Tennessee.”
State Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, also plans to introduce legislation proposing three options for schools: to have a trained student resource officer on campus; allow faculty members who are permit holders to take student resource officer training so they can carry a gun at school; or require the school system to assume liability of its students.
“Gun-free zones don’t work, and that’s been proven time and time again,” Campfield said.