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January 13, 2013

Support for gun-carrying teachers is growing, Republican senator says

INDIANAPOLIS — Republican state Sen. Jim Tomes says there may be growing support for his proposal to train more school teachers in the use of firearms.

Tomes, a gun-rights advocate from Wadesville, floated the idea of arming teachers in a December interview with an Indianapolis TV station when he was considering introducing legislation that would make it easier to do so.

Within days of the story, he heard from teachers and retired educators in Indiana and around the country who supported the idea.

“Two months ago, if we talked about this, we’d have been laughed off the face of the planet,” Tomes said. “Maybe now, there’s an opportunity to express some points of view that people never thought of, or refused to think about.”

What changed the conversation was the Dec. 14 shooting at a Connecticut school that left 20 children and 6 teachers dead.

In the wake of the shooting, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, who’s called for tougher gun control, said more guns in schools are not the answer: “Freedom is not a handgun on the hip of every teacher, and security should not mean a guard posted outside every classroom,” Malloy said.

But Tomes is convinced that giving teachers the option of carrying a concealed firearm needs to be part of the national debate over gun control that’s been raging since the Connecticut tragedy. Already, schoolteachers in Ohio, Utah and Texas are signing up for firearms training classes.

“I would not want to make this a mandate in any shape or fashion,” Tomes said. “I wouldn’t want anyone to carry a firearm who’s not comfortable with it…But for teachers who are willing to go through rigorous training and who are willing to act as the first responders to protect our children, they ought to have the right to do so.”

Tomes said Indiana law already gives schoolteachers that right.

A state law that allows schools to ban weapons from being brought onto their premises exempts anyone who has been employed or authorized by a school “to act as a security guard, perform or participate in a school function, or participate in any other activity authorized by a school.”

Tomes’ hope is that more school corporations in Indiana will designate teachers or other employees to act as security officers and allow them to be armed. He also advocates that those school employees receive intensive training from an organization like the Indiana Firearms Association, whose members are certified firearms instructors.

“I won’t accept an argument that teachers can’t be trained as well as law enforcement officers,” Tomes said, adding that many police officers have had no firearms training before entering the state’s law enforcement academy.

Tomes has faced opposition from the Indiana State Teachers Association. “I don’t think that proliferation of firearms on school property is good for kids,” ISTA president Nate Schnellenberger told the Associated Press.

Mike Ward, director of the Indiana Association of Chiefs of Police, declined comment on Tomes’ proposal. The association favors proposed legislation, promoted by Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, that would provide more state dollars to local school corporations to put more police officers in schools.

Tomes doesn’t oppose the legislation but said it doesn’t go far enough. He said most schools will still only be able afford to have one police officer on staff.

“They (police officers) are not super humans just by virtue of having a badge and uniform,” Tomes said. “They are merely mortals like the rest of us, they can only be in one place at one time.”

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com.

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