February 16, 2013 11:23:26 PM
Carl Smith - [email protected]
Mississippi Representatives passed a school gun bill Wednesday allowing local school boards to authorize district employees - administrative or instructional - to carry concealed firearms on campuses.
A committee substitute for HB 958, which was originally authored by Miss. Rep. Lester "Bubba" Carpenter, R-Burnsville, passed as amended 80-40. Seventy-two votes were needed for passage according to the state's voting record.
A motion to reconsider was entered by state Reps. Alyce G. Clarke, D-Jackson, John L. Moore, R-Brandon and David W. Myers, D-McComb, afterward but was tabled Friday.
A previous version of the bill permitted school boards to allow two district employees per school to carry concealed firearms, but the House substitute version does not set a maximum number.
If passed by the Senate, school boards choosing to allow armed employees must ensure those carrying firearms obtain proper permits and training. School boards must also submit enhanced safety plans with the state school board and Mississippi Department of Public Safety and must verify the identities of armed employees with DPS.
HB 958 was one of numerous school safety bills filed by state representatives this legislative session. State Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus, filed his own school firearm bill, HB 177, but it died Feb. 5 in the House Education Committee. He is also listed as an additional author for HB 958.
Chism's bill, also known as the School Protection Act, proposed allowing school administrators access to .38-caliber firearms - the minimum caliber requirement - and "exploding ammunition which prevents ricochet(s)."
HB 958 does not mandate a minimum firearm caliber or a type of ammunition.
Many school districts across Mississippi already employ armed student resource officers who ensure campus security, while other districts have working agreements with local law enforcement agencies for daily safety checks.
Chism said HB 958 benefits school systems without funding streams for armed SROs or those districts that fall within the jurisdiction of law enforcement agencies that cannot spare manpower for working protection agreements.
"A lot of schools have SROs walking the halls and many have those agreements with sheriff's departments and city police departments, but for those who don't, this bill is decidedly in their best interests," Chism said. "It's up to local school boards to decide if they want (armed employees). All we want to do is make sure those districts that can't fully fund safety mechanisms have another choice."
The Starkville School District is one state school system that utilizes a number of armed SROs to patrol its campuses. Those officers, SSD Superintendent Lewis Holloway said, receive training comparable to police officers. The district also has a number of trained ROTC instructors it can call upon on as needed during emergency situations.
Holloway said the district confiscated only one firearm in five years. No incidents involving actual firearms on campus, he said, have been reported since he took over as district superintendent. In addition, five BB pistols were confiscated by district personnel in the same time period.
"We've never had a student threaten to use a gun here at SSD," Holloway said.
On Feb. 8, Sudduth Elementary was locked down by SSD officials after an escalation produced a threat toward the district.
An employee associated with the incident, Holloway said, has a medical condition which prevents the district from discussing specifics about the incident; however, he said, the employee's work load is believed to have led to the escalation.
The Sudduth lock-down lasted approximately 30 minutes and ended shortly before 3 p.m. that day. The Dispatch previously reported the spouse of a school employee allegedly threatened to bring a shotgun to the campus. Authorities were notified, and the man was located across town unarmed. No charges were filed.
"There was never a threat against students, but we did not know that at the time. Basically, this person said something he shouldn't have said. We'll continue to act in the same manner to ensure the safety of our schools," Holloway said. "(Safety measures) worked well then. Within five minutes, we had an officer at every corner of the school."
Oktibbeha County School District has a working agreement with the county sheriff's department. Deputies check on the district's schools daily during the school week.
The Columbus Municipal School District also utilizes SROs to patrol its campuses, CMSD public information officer Michael Jackson said.
Both SSD and CMSD officials say they maintain strong working relationships with their respective city police departments.
CMSD Superintendent Dr. Martha Liddell did not reply to messages left by the Dispatch Thursday or Friday. West Point School District Superintendent Burnell McDonald also did not return calls.
Weapon incident reports were unavailable from both CMSD and WPSD.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch