Armed teachers in Pa.’s schools? Groups on both sides of the gun debate say Senate bill would allow it

By: - June 27, 2019 10:08 am

Shira Goodman and Kim Stolfer may not agree on much, but they recently found common ground on a school safety bill now before the state Senate.

Goodman, leader of the gun control group CeaseFire PA, and Stolfer, president of the pro-gun Firearms Owners Against Crime, both say that a bill sponsored by Sen. Mike Regan, R-York, would grant schools more discretion in arming trained employees.

That could mean deputizing teachers to carry firearms.

“Could a teacher be able to carry a firearm if they met qualifications [under the bill]? We believe if a school board wanted that, the bill would enable it,” Stolfer said.

That’s welcome news to Stolfer, who thinks Pennsylvania should arm its teachers to prevent deadly mass shootings.

Goodman, on the other hand, argues that the proliferation of guns in schools will only endanger students. And she’s troubled that two groups with opposite philosophies on gun safety share the same interpretation of Regan’s bill.

“We obviously have different views from them about school security, what makes school safe in general,” Goodman said Wednesday. But if a gun rights group such as Stolfer’s sees the bill as a path to arm teachers, she said, “we’re worried.”

Staffers in Regan’s office said Wednesday that the bill was never meant to let teachers carry guns, but agreed that schools may interpret its language differently. That could lead to costly lawsuits if districts start arming teachers, Goodman said.

CeaseFire and the Education Law Center circulated a memo opposing the bill on June 21, calling it “dangerously bad policy” that would expose more students to gun violence.

Representatives from the groups argued that arming school employees won’t reduce gun violence and will increase the chance that students will gain access to firearms. They also warned that minority students and students with disabilities, who face more discipline than other children, would disproportionately encounter armed security personnel. 

In response, Stolfer emailed all 203 House members to ask for their affirmative votes on the legislation. He said that armed teachers could prevent school shootings like the one that occurred in Parkland, Fla., in 2017, leaving 17 students and staff dead. 

“This isn’t enabling all teachers or security personnel to carry firearms, only those who go through proper training,” Stolfer said in a phone interview Tuesday. He added, “We have flight deck officers on airplanes who carry firearms, but we can’t have that in Pennsylvania schools.”

In the wake of deadly school shootings, dozens of states have contemplated policies that would allow teachers and other school employees to carry firearms. 

Proponents of those policies, including Stolfer, say there’s no time to lose when an active shooter is on the loose. If a school has an armed professional on-site, the argument goes, staff won’t waste precious minutes waiting for police to intervene.

Last year, the Tamaqua Area School District in Schuylkill County became the first school system in Pennsylvania to allow its teachers to carry guns. 

The policy is the subject of two ongoing lawsuits from district teachers and parents. Reynelle Brown Staley, director of policy for the Education Law Center, thinks both suits could be rendered moot if the Senate bill passes.

As it stands, Regan’s bill would amend Pennsylvania’s school code to allow schools to hire independent contractors and third-party vendors to perform security duties. It also eliminates a provision in current law that prohibits school security guards from engaging in programs with students.

An amendment from the House Education Committee last week also stripped language that made the bill the “exclusive means” for schools to arm security personnel.

As a result, Goodman believes districts could create their own categories of armed security personnel. They could also assign teachers to serve as armed security guards, she said, as long as educators get the training required under Pennsylvania’s school code.

Even though the Education Law Center opposes anyone carrying guns in schools, it supports proper training for armed professionals who deal with children.

But “we don’t support all of these other changes that have made it too easy for someone to carry a gun and be around kids in the name of school safety,” Brown said said.

Gov. Tom Wolf would veto any bill that would allow teachers to carry firearms, his spokesperson J.J. Abbott said Wednesday night. His office is still reviewing Regan’s bill to determine if it would get Wolf’s signature.

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Elizabeth Hardison
Elizabeth Hardison

Elizabeth Hardison covered education policy, election administration, criminal justice and legislative news for the Capital-Star from Jan. 2019-April 2021. You can find her on Twitter @ElizHardison.