A growing number of state legislatures and school districts across the United States are moving to allow school employees to carry weapons on campus to protect students and teachers.
After horrific episodes of school violence — including the December 2012 Sandy Hook tragedy that claimed the lives of 20 elementary school students and six educators — some lawmakers and school officials are registering concerns that emergency plans developed in the wake of the 1999 Columbine school shooting aren't enough to protect against an active shooter seeking to do harm inside a school.
While current federal law forbids carrying a firearm in a school zone, states, communities, and local school boards have passed exemptions that give certain permit holders permission to do so.
Some expect the trend to continue to grow.
"I think in time it's going to be required," said Jim Irvine, chairman of the Buckeye Firearms Association in Columbus, Ohio. That state's General Assembly is reviewing legislation that could affect how schools and other places like day-care centers and churches allow the use of guns for protection.
"It's not only a good idea, it's a mandatory thing if you want the kids to be safe," Irvine, who educates school boards about the issue of guns in schools along with safety education and training, told Newsmax.
In 2013, seven states passed new legislation related to permit holders carrying weapons on elementary and secondary school campuses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Also, at least 33 states introduced more than 80 bills that addressed the issue of teachers and administrators in K-12 becoming armed, the NCSL said.
The proposed laws include allowing teachers who have obtained concealed-carry permits to bring their weapons onto schools grounds, and authorizing districts to create "sentinel" programs that designate certain trained weapons carriers on school campuses.
In Arkansas, lawmakers approved a measure allowing churches that operate K-12 schools to permit a person with a concealed-handgun license to bring a gun onto school property, as well as into a church facility or other place of worship.
Oklahoma now gives permission to its private schools to let concealed-carry permit holders bring their guns onto school grounds, providing they have obtained additional certification.
In Alabama, a new law authorizes specific counties to form voluntary emergency security forces, made up of current and retired school employees. School districts also must establish policies for carriage and storage of weapons.
Kansas school districts now may allow employees who have received state-issued concealed-carry permits to bring guns onto campus, and school employees in Tennessee who are licensed can now carry firearms on campus with written authorization from school officials and law enforcement.
South Dakota and Texas have created school "sentinel" and "marshal" programs, which include arming school employees.
"The people opposed to it say school is the safest place your kid can be. True," Irvine said. "That being said, violence is the No. 1 cause of death for our kids in school. In fact, violence kills more of our children than every other cause of death combined in our schools. "
Opponents of the move to arm teachers and other employees say guns have no place in schools, where they increase the danger for everyone.
"I personally choose to keep myself away from firearms. Once you are in the possession of a firearm, you are in a greater risk of being shot," says Amy Pulles, director of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, who cites news accounts of accidents in which weapons have discharged and children have died.
Her group opposes the concealed-carry laws under consideration in Ohio, including a bill that would expand the places where gun owners may carry guns.
Regarding her position on guns in schools, she told Newsmax:
"We do not think that it's necessary. We don't think it's safe. While not to undermine the tragedy that families like those in Sandy Hook have suffered, of the minors who are shot, less than 1 percent are shot on school grounds or at a school-sponsored function. Our schools are a very safe place to be."
Irvine, who is a parent, says support for programs is rising in his home state as he explains education programs to school boards, and many educators — who might otherwise have been opposed — see the potential that guns offer schools as an extra layer of protection.
Irvine said it is wrong for school districts to look the other way as violence creeps into places many never imagined it could.
"The firearm is the only thing that [can] reliably stop an active killer in a school. Nothing else works reliably. And if you reliably want your kids to come home — and I do mine — you've got to protect them," Irvine said.
But he added, "We have 150,000 schools in this country, and there is no possible way we can afford to hire armed people for all these schools.
"The only reason this is controversial is because some people assess this emotional value to a gun. It's a tool. Some people use it for very bad things. If you want your children to be safe, you put someone in that school who is armed and able to respond quickly.
"Our country is sick of our kids dying in schools. Sandy Hook, because of the ages of those victims, hit us a lot harder."
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