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Lawmakers OK guns in school

Sara McManamy-Johnson sjohnson@lebanondemocrat.com • Updated Jul 26, 2013 at 10:05 PM

Former law enforcement officers would be allowed to carry guns in schools under a bill lawmakers approved Thursday.

The local director of schools and the school’s principal would also have to approve which staffers could come to school armed.

The bill won House approval 82-15 on Tuesday and the Senate on Thursday 27-6. The House agreed to three Senate amendments Thursday night and sent it to Gov. Bill Haslam, who is likely to allow it to become law because his administration helped draft the compromise.

House Bill 6 — called the School Security Act of 2013 — will be the Tennessee legislature’s main response to the massacre of 20 first graders and six faculty and staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Dec. 14.

A separate resolution has passed that calls for state education officials to study the costs of a more comprehensive school safety plan and report the findings to lawmakers next year.

HB 6 set off a lively debate on the Senate floor Thursday when Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, who had sponsored a much broader bill allowing any school employee with a handgun-carry permit to go armed in schools, argued that it was “so watered down and so weak” that it’s been “neutered about as much we can neuter it.”

The sponsor, Sen. Frank Nicely, R-Strawberry Plains, said the redrawn bill represents a “consensus” among the governor, lawmakers, the Tennessee Sheriffs Association, Tennessee Police Chiefs Association and the state’s School Boards Association.

Scott Benson, director of schools for Lebanon Special School District, said he is more comfortable with the bill as it passed than when it was originally proposed.

“Mixing guns in the hallways and classrooms with our students is definitely not a good mix,” said Benson.

He also said he still needs to investigate the full ramifications of the bill, but he was still a bit leery of even allowing former law enforcement to carry on school premises.

“I was in the Marine Corps, so I’ve had training,” said Benson. “Of course, that was years ago; I don’t think it would be a good idea for me to carry a gun in a school building, because that’s not what I do on a daily basis.”

Wilson County Sheriff Robert Bryan said the bill would be most applicable for smaller counties that may not be able to afford to assign school resource officers to the schools.

“It allows these smaller counties to hire retired police officers to come in and serve as security for these schools,” said Bryan.

Under this bill, only a current or former law enforcement officer certified by the Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission with a valid handgun carry permit and written permission from the director of schools would be eligible to carry a gun on school premises.

That person would also have to complete a 40 hours of training in basic school policing, the school district would have to provide law enforcement with the name and basic information of the person authorized.

Carrying guns on school grounds will not become a “right” for school personnel.

Sen. Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, was critical of the bill’s provision that blocks parents from finding out if their children’s teachers are bringing guns into the classroom. “I truly believe your constituents who have a child in school would like to know if their child’s teacher is carrying a gun,” he said.

But Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, said that “for a person intent on assaulting a school, the most valuable information they can have is where guns are in the school.”

Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, said the bill does not limit the kinds of firearms the approved personnel could take to school.

– Richard Locke with The Commercial Appeal contributed to this report via MCT.

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