State lawmaker to introduce school guns bill

 Similar bill died in committee two years ago

By Grant Schulte
Associated Press

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska lawmakers are likely to revisit the idea of allowing teachers to carry guns in school next year, but the proposal will again face strong opposition.

State Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial said he plans to introduce legislation that could allow teachers to bring concealed weapons into classrooms when lawmakers convene in January. A similar bill died in committee two years ago, but Christensen said he’s preparing a new version with additional requirements before teachers or school administrators could qualify.

“I absolutely don’t want every teacher to have one. Nobody does,” Christensen said. “But if you have a gunman coming into a school, I don’t want kids shot up and killed until the police arrive, which could be four or five minutes. It could be 10 minutes. Ten minutes could mean a lot of dead kids.”

Christensen introduced the previous measure in January 2011, after a student gunman shot and killed a vice principal at Millard South High School in Omaha and injured the principal, before turning the gun on himself. The proposal died in committee, and faced opposition from education and law-enforcement groups.

With a few exceptions, Nebraska prohibits guns on all school grounds, in school vehicles and at school-sponsored activities. Christensen said the new bill would include additional training requirements and mandatory local approval before a teacher could bring a gun to school.

Teachers would first have to obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon and would then undergo further training, possibly in a simulated school setting. They also would have to secure approval from the local school board, which would make its decision in a closed session so teachers with guns couldn’t be identified.

Christensen said many constituents in his southern Nebraska district called for legislation again after the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut.

“I had way more requests for it last session than I’d ever had before,” he said. “It was unbelievable. People were mad. They don’t want their kids hurt.”

The measure will likely face opposition from school groups. The Nebraska State Education Association maintains a zero-tolerance policy for weapons and other dangerous devices in schools, said Nancy Fulton, the group’s president.

“The NSEA believes that children and educational employees should be guaranteed a safe, secure learning environment and working conditions,” said Fulton, a 34-year classroom teacher.

Fulton pointed to a January poll of 800 members of the National Education Association. The poll said 22 percent of NEA members favored proposals for training programs to let teachers carry firearms in schools, while 68 percent opposed the idea.

Arkansas, Oklahoma and Virginia each passed laws this year that allowed permit holders to carry weapons on school grounds, said Lauren Heintz, a research analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures. But none of the laws applied to public schools, and in Virginia, the permits were only allowed for security officers hired to protect students and employees.

At least 38 states and the District of Columbia prohibit firearms on school grounds, according to data compiled by the group.