Since the Newtown school tragedy last December, guns have become the most heated topic in America.
Last month President Barack Obama proposed an aggressive gun control plan that emphasized school protection. On Thursday House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats unveiled their own gun control package that also included taking steps for more school safety.
But state legislatures around the country aren’t waiting for Washington to come up with a plan. Instead, they have introduced legislation aimed at gun issues in school settings.
This week in Mississippi, a bill passed in the House Education Committee that allows two teachers or staff members in the state’s public schools to carry concealed weapons. Poorer rural schools, say some legislators, cannot afford security guards and need protection.
“It allows a school district to set up their own marshal’s service, a secret force within that school that’s armed,” House Education Committee Chairman John Moore, a Republican, told local reporters.
Proponents of the bill point to the 1997 school shooting in Pearl, Miss., where a 16-year-old student shot and killed two classmates and injured seven others. The school’s assistant principal retrieved a revolver from his truck and prevented the student from leaving the campus until police arrived.
"No matter what the laws are, criminals, mentally ill people and others will always be able to get their hands on a gun."
A recent poll by Professional Oklahoma Educators showed that 56 percent of respondents, which included teachers, administrators and support staff, are in favor of faculty carrying handguns on school campuses. A bill supporting teachers with guns passed through the House Public Safety Committee this week in the Oklahoma legislature.
“If you don’t think teachers should have access to guns, your thinking is being clouded by emotion,” Steve Siebold, author of Sex, Politics and Religion: How Delusional Thinking is Destroying America, told TakePart. “Many people are still feeling the hurt, anger, sadness and disbelief from the Newtown shooting, and are unable to see the big picture using logical thinking devoid of emotion. No matter what the laws are, criminals, mentally ill people and others will always be able to get their hands on a gun unfortunately, and the rest of us, including teachers, should have a chance to fight back and defend ourselves and our children.”
North Carolina and Tennessee have similar bills to Mississippi’s pending in their legislatures, but Colorado’s legislators recently struck down such a measure.
In Arkansas, a bill has been introduced to allow faculty and staff to carry handguns onto university campuses and into campus buildings. Several states have pending legislation that would allow concealed-weapon permit holders—students or faculty—to carry guns onto state college campuses.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 18 states introduced bills in 2011 to allow concealed-carry weapons on college campuses. Wisconsin and Mississippi were the only two states to enact such laws.
The push this year for more guns in academic settings is facing loud protest. This week more than 350 college presidents from across the country presented a signed letter to Washington opposing the idea of adding more guns to school campuses as a way to reduce gun violence.
“I don’t know of a time when so many college and university presidents have spoken collectively with one voice on any issue of such public importance,” Oglethorpe University President Lawrence M. Schall, a co-author of the letter, said at a press conference in Washington his week. “On most issues, we wouldn’t agree. But on this one...we do agree and we have chosen to speak. We believe that more guns make us less safe, not more safe.”
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Suzi Parker is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist whose work frequently appears in The Washington Post and The Christian Science Monitor. She is the author of two books. @SuziParker | TakePart.com