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Officials differ on educators with guns
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Will Warren County teachers soon be packing heat? That question was discussed at a county Education Committee meeting Monday night.
The possibility of teachers carrying guns has gained steam following the Dec. 14 shooting in Newtown, Conn., where 27 people, including 20 first-graders at Sandy Hook Elementary, died at the hands of a lone gunman.
County Commissioner Joel Akers asked Director of Schools Bobby Cox, “Are you going to arm them?” referring to county teachers.
Cox said, “I am not against owning a gun, but I am against making them own a gun. More guns in schools is not the answer, in my opinion.”
Cox went on to say, “Anything you have in society, you will have in schools. Drugs are in society. Drugs are in schools. We need to have plans with how to deal with these things. Until you get rid of guns everywhere, and I mean until there is not another gun left in society, there will be a problem. I think we need to make sure our plans for dealing with a situation are right. I want to look at all the parameters and gather all the information before I say our teachers could be armed. I don’t think our teachers would feel comfortable being armed.”
Commissioner Ron Lee said, “When I was in high school, people had shotguns in the back window of their pickups and we didn’t have this problem. We should have a Warren County teachers sharp shooter pistol team and then that stuff wouldn’t happen.”
Jaime Lorance, a teacher at Bobby Ray Elementary, said, “I would not feel comfortable carrying a gun myself. We have guns in our home and I had shot guns even as a child but I just couldn’t carry. I would feel uncomfortable carrying. But, maybe it would be good if some people at school did, like the response team.”
Tracy Herrin, a teacher at West Elementary, said, “I think I would be afraid of a student getting to it and getting hurt or hurting someone. Maybe some type of protection is needed but not a gun. The chances of a drastic situation happening is probably one in a million. I pray Warren County never faces a day we have to protect ourselves by gun. I think we need to focus more on more intervention on behaviors and counseling for our students in all levels, especially elementary, to build character and self-esteem.”
Several counties in Tennessee are presenting resolutions concerning teachers and firearms. Some 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 to schools.
Mt. Juliet Mayor Ed Hagerty is co-sponsoring a resolution that will waive the $50 to $100 fee for Wilson County educators to attend a Mt. Juliet police handgun class for free.
Williamson County’s sheriff, director of schools and the county mayor decided to pay for additional school resource officers (SROs) with local tax dollars, even if the money isn’t in the budget. They plan to pull $2.5 million out of the county reserve fund. To put an officer in every public school in Williamson County, including the Franklin Special School District, means hiring 32 more people.
A senator from Knoxville has promised to introduce a bill on a statewide level that could ask some principals and teachers to carry a weapon.
The National Education Association and Professional Educators of Tennessee oppose allowing teachers to be armed. Gov. Bill Haslam and House Speaker Beth Harwell, both Republicans, have also expressed skepticism.
“What if the teacher doesn’t want to be armed?” Haslam asked. “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.”
Warren County Commissioners discussed federal and state laws that forbid guns on school campuses. At this time, SROs are the only people allowed to have guns on their person while on school property.
“Any time someone walks into a federal building, the sign says ‘No guns allowed.’ I wish they would take those signs down. Let someone wonder if someone working there has a gun,” said Commissioner Lee.
Federal and state laws allowing guns on school campuses will have to change before the county can decide if teachers will be allowed to bring handguns to school. The state legislature may take up the issue of arming school faculty during the upcoming legislative session which will begin Tuesday.