Tennessee to consider allowing teachers to carry guns in schools
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Veteran teacher Holly Kesley doesn't have her Tennessee carry permit yet.
But she grew up around guns. She and her husband own guns.
And after the killings of 20 first-and-second graders and six administrators in Newtown, Connecticut, she would like the authority to carry a handgun at Bradley Central High School.
"One of my own is the same age as the children who died at Sandy Hook," Kesley says. "You're trusting your children to my care. I would feel better if I had a concrete way to protect them."
Bradley County has armed deputies, or School Resource Officers (SRO's) in all 17 of its schools. It costs the sheriff's office about $850,000 a year.
"I'm not trying to take the position of an SRO," says Rep. Eric Watson (R-Cleveland), a former Captain in the sheriff's office. "This is in support of an SRO."
Watson is among several Tennessee lawmakers planning to introduce legislation to allow teachers and other public school district employees to carry guns.
"Parents will not let politicians stand and do nothing," Rep. Watson says. "The SRO's can't be everywhere."
Watson's legislation would authorize public school faculty and staff to carry firearms provided:
he/she already possesses or is acquiring a handgun carry permit;
has the written authorization of the Director of Schools to carry a firearm on school property and ;
completes a forty-hour course in "basic school policing training, to include training in crisis management and hostile situations."
Bradley Central Principal Todd Shoemaker and Director of Schools Johnny McDaniel offered support for Watson's measure at a news conference Monday afternoon.
"We need another option to offer protection for our students," Shoemaker says. "We have at least four faculty with law enforcement or military backgrounds who want to be able to offer this protection."
"We're talking about the same-type training SRO's go through on top of their law-enforcement work," Watson says. "It's not mandated, so Districts could decide how to apply it, and how they would pay for such training."
Should Watson's bill become law, those who opt to carry would assume all risk and/or liability for their actions, "unless the Board of Education or Superintendent knew of or intentionally solicited or procured the faculty or staff member's actions involving a firearm that resulted in the harm," the legislation reads.
That gives Kesley pause.
"I would never agree to be part of a program unless that was carefully spelled out," she says.
The instructor for Bradley Central's Junior ROTC program has no such qualms.
"If I were to pull out my weapon, it would be for a reason," says Chris Ingle, a veteran of the War on Terror. "I know I'd be doing the right thing with it."
The Tennessee Education Association has not declared full opposition to all legislation that would allow school employees to carry weapons on campus.
But in a release last Friday, TEA President Gera Summerford cautions that "we should not rush to take extreme action without careful study of what actually improves school safety."
"Educators want and need continued training to help them spot potential mental health needs, bullying and high-risk behaviors. They should be trained in crisis management," the TEA release continues.
"Students deserve to have access to specialized school personnel who are trained and available to support their behavioral, social and emotional needs. Too often, school counselors are assigned to handle student scheduling and testing coordination duties, leaving them little time for counseling the students who need them.
Every school—elementary, middle and high school—should have a specially trained School Resource Officer."
Members of a rival organization for teachers, the Professional Educators of Tennessee, are "split about 50-50," according to spokesman J. C. Bowman, who attended Rep. Watson's news conference in support of the measure.
"Some don't want the responsibility, and they worry about liability," Bowman says.
"But this doesn't prohibit it and it doesn't require it, so that's something we can work with."