March 13, 2013 9:52:52 AM
JACKSON -- House members want to steer the school safety debate back toward letting school districts arm teachers and employees.
The House voted 70-46 Tuesday to amend Senate Bill 2659 to allow school districts to decide to allow guns in schools.
The Senate bill had included a proposal by Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves to help schools pay for resource officers. The Senate earlier killed a House bill allowing districts to arm employees who pass a firearms safety course.
The House and Senate will have to resolve differences before any bill can move forward.
Rep. Jeff Guice, R-Ocean Springs, told House members that his proposal wouldn't require any school board to allow guns in schools or any teacher to carry a gun.
"This bill is not about guns, it's not about teachers carrying guns," he said.
"It's about school boards making decisions about what's appropriate. Each school district is very different."
Under the House plan, the Department of Public Safety and Department of Education would have to approve security policies. Any employee carrying a concealed weapon would have to pass a firearms safety course. That mirrors a 2011 state law allowing people, if they get training, to carry concealed guns into many places where they're otherwise banned, including college campuses and churches.
House Education Committee Chairman John Moore, R-Brandon, said the carnage of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting could have been prevented if a worker had been armed.
"Today we have a half-million children who are absolutely defenseless in the event of something like that happening," Moore said of Mississippi students.
Opponents said guns in schools are a recipe for trouble. Several Democrats brought up a recent case where a Madison County student took a gun that a substitute teacher brought a gun to the county's alternative school. The theft came to light after a second student reported it.
"Do you believe adding guns into the schools is going to add to safety?" said Rep. David Myers, D-McComb. "Teachers and coaches have bad days too. Principals have bad days as well."
Rep. John Hines, D-Greenville, said he favored teachers carrying stun guns and not real guns, to reduce injuries and fatalities.
Opponents favored the Senate bill, which would provide $7.5 million for $10,000 grants for schools that wanted to hire security officers.
"Wouldn't it be better to have sworn officers provide additional protection?" asked Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson.
Moore, though, said the state can't afford to subsidize security officers.
"My thought is to allow them to do it without the state having to spend a lot of money," he said. "It would be better to have trained snipers, we just can't afford it."