Reviews mixed as gun bill takes new turn

Staff Writer

A controversial bill that could have opened the way for guns at college football and basketball games gets one fix but picks up another that could make it just as controversial.

The state Senate Judiciary A Committee Tuesday amended HB 1083 to open the door for teachers to be armed in schools.

The change brought various reactions, from cries of "ridiculous" to more tempered "at least it is something," from current and former educators and parents.

The original bill allowed people with enhanced conceal carry gun permits to file a complaint with the attorney general's office and have an easier legal recourse if a government body has a gun ban that violates legislative intent.

Tuesday's Senate amendment allows colleges to prohibit guns at stadiums and other sporting events, removing many of the original objections to the bill by university presidents and the SEC.

But the Senate amendments also would allow teachers and professors who get 12 hours of advanced law-enforcement training every two years and also have enhanced gun carry permits to carry concealed weapons in schools.

It would apply to K-12 schools, community colleges and universities. It's also not mandatory and local school boards would have to approve a policy.

Committee Chairman Briggs Hopson, a Vicksburg Republican, praised the change he offered.

"People have been massacred in schools. This is an opportunity to allow schools in Mississippi the discretion to determine if they want to start a safety program that could potentially have armed well-trained staff members."

Teachers who use a weapon under the law would have immunity from liability if the educator was in fear of his or her life or those of others.

West Point Schools Superintendent Burnell McDonald was mixed in his opinion.

"If it passes, I will consult with the school board and do what the board thinks is best. But from my experience, from my personal opinion, I don't think arming teachers is a good idea," McDonald said.

"I wonder how much study they really have done on this issue. I wonder whether they talked to many educators. Teachers are under enough stress at it is. You don't need this on them as well. They need to be worried about teaching their children and having the resources in their classrooms to do the best they can," he continued.

"And from a practical standpoint, I wonder if it would do any good. Teachers are going to protect their kids first. So unless they are where the shooter is, they aren't likely to be able to help. I just personally think we have better solutions," he stated.

Former Starkville School District Philip Burchfield, who now heads the Mississippi Association of School Superintendents, also was diplomatic, saying the group supports "letting a local district and its community leaders make decisions that fit their situation" and to make sure the resources are available to carry out that plan.

But Nita Rudy, the executive director of the National Partners for Public Schools group, was blunt, calling the idea "ridiculous."

Rudy said the Legislature should take the opposite approach by banning assault weapons.

Anne Tidwell, a retired educator who spent 34 years in the classroom before getting out two years ago, gave lawmakers some wiggle room.

"At least it is something. I don't think it will make a difference, but it shows they may be thinking about school safety a little bit. I fear they really are just trying to play politics. The real test will be whether they fund education and things like counselors and mental health services that could make a real difference," Tidwell said.

"Sounds to me like a knee-jerk reaction, trying to sound like they are doing something when in reality they are just talking. If I were still teaching, I wouldn't want a gun or guns in there, no matter how much they are trained. Kids are sneaky and curious. That's all we need is a kid with the gun," added Mona Gilliam, a retired Alabama teacher who now lives in Clay County.

After school massacre in Connecticut in 2012, the Mississippi Legislature toyed with the idea of allowed armed teachers and principals. The idea died without final action. Many hope that's what happens again.

"They need to focus on real solutions, not something that might be number 20 on the list of what our schools need," said Barry Arnett, whose nephew attends West Point schools.

"There should be more security, and resource officers," said Nichole Kuhn, whose daughter attends Southside Elementary. "I think if teachers are allowed to carry, they should go through a mental evaluation," added Cindy Cannon, who agreed with the extensive training provisions. "Some people may be great teachers but don't need a gun."