On Tuesday, the Mississippi House of Representatives sent back to the Senate a bill that would arm teachers.
Before sending it over, the House, by a 70-46 vote, amended the Senate’s bill in two major ways. Actually, the House did more than amend it. They neutered it.
And in this case, the House is to be applauded.
In its original form, the bill included $10,000 in funding for a school to hire armed security personnel, something Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves has specifically asked for. In addition, the House amended the bill to permit each school district to make up its own mind about whether it would provide or permit firearms to school staff as a means of improving security.
Whenever legislators equivocate by passing hard decisions on to others, it is almost always an effort to avoid responsibility for whatever might result. You decide, said the House. We want no part of it.
That’s certainly understandable, because arming teachers or school staff could have many unintended consequences, most of them bad, some even tragic.
Under the current version of the bill, the Mississippi Department of Public Safety and the Mississippi Department of Education would have to approve the policies of any school district that wants to arm staff.
But ultimately, since it would be the school district’s decision to arm staff, the district would also assume liability in the event of a tragic error or accident.
Before any school district rushes to arm staff members, it should ask some very serious questions:
First, under what circumstances would use of deadly force be authorized? Does it go beyond a situation where an armed gunman arrives on campus? What about other types of violence? Would a teacher be permitted to use deadly force against a student who is attacking someone? What if that student had a knife?
Second, what training would be provided? Would it be adequate? As written, the bill would require school staff members to attend a one-day seminar. Is that really sufficient training? Law enforcement agencies and the military certainly don’t think so. Police and soldiers spend hours upon hours in regular, recurrent firearm training and even then occasionally make decisions that are tragically wrong. Could we not anticipate teachers doing the same? Does anyone really believe that a teacher who is unlikely to have any police or military background is adequately equipped to use a deadly weapon based on a single day of training? It defies reason.
Third, if you make a reasonable concession that a teacher with scant firearm training might be put in a situation to use deadly force, isn’t it reasonable to say it opens up all sorts of liability issues? In an armed confrontation, innocent bystanders are often victims. If a student is killed or seriously injured by a bullet from a teacher’s gun, is the district liable? And what of the possibility that a gun could be taken away from the teacher and used to harm someone? What if the teacher’s gun is lost, stolen or misplaced?
Fourth, in the worst-case scenario, involving an armed teacher and an armed assailant, how will first responders be able to distinguish between the two? Does not this create a real hazard for law enforcement arriving on the scene?
Chances are, anyone who gives any serious thought to the subject could come up with more questions.
While all of us want to make our schools as safe as possible, arming school staff is likely to make our schools more dangerous, not less.
Bringing guns into schools is a radical, dangerous and counter-productive step.
Senate Bill 2659 is a knee-jerk response to a serious issue. It should be defeated.
Let your senator know how you feel.
Terry Brown (Lowndes County), 601-359-3209; Gary Jackson (Oktibbeha), 601-359-3234; Angela Turner (Clay), 601-359-3237; Sampson Jackson II (Noxubee), 601-359-2886.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.