(COLUMBIA, SC) — A new bill in the South Carolina House aims to better protect children by creating new “School Protection Officers,” who would be teachers, administrators or any other school employees who would be allowed to carry guns or pepper spray at school. The school employees would volunteer for the additional responsibilities and would have to go through a new two-week training program at the Criminal Justice Academy. School employees who have concealed weapons permits would be allowed to carry their guns at school, as long as they keep them concealed or locked in a school firearm safe.
“Schools are gun-free zones now, and that makes them a target,” says Rep. Phillip Lowe, R-Florence, the main sponsor of the bill. He says if someone intent on shooting up a school knew that any teacher or other school employee might be armed, schools wouldn’t be targets.
He prefiled a bill in 2012 that would have allowed any teacher with a CWP to carry at school, but the bill didn’t go anywhere because of concerns about the lack of training. This new bill would require the new two-week training to include: shoot/don’t shoot training; school safety protection training; rapid response training; identifying and containing potential threats and occurring threats training; defusing volatile situations and resolving conflict; communicating with law enforcement that has jurisdiction over the school; and first responder first aid.
James Davis was waiting to pick up his 13-year-old from middle school in Columbia Monday. When told about the bill, he said, “It’s a good idea to have guns in the school, for the teachers, to have the right teachers to have the guns. You’ve got to have protection. The crooks have got guns so we’re going to have to have them too. So I think it’s a good idea. I hope it passes.”
But Brett Qualls, who was waiting outside the same school to pick up his 13-year-old daughter, said, “More people with guns bothers me.” He says he’s worried about the accessibility of the guns. “At the end of the day or in-between classes the teacher could lay their pistol down anywhere, sit it in their drawer, don’t want to wear it, put it in their drawer. A kid could get a hold of it. Anything could go wrong like that. You’re talking about K-through-12. Kids are curious.”
It would be up to each school district to decide whether to have school protection officers, and the districts would have to hold public hearings before deciding.
Kathy Maness, executive director of the Palmetto State Teachers Association, says, “I am very concerned that this bill would allow other people besides law enforcement agencies to carry guns inside the classroom.”
She says state superintendent Molly Spearman appointed a school safety task force, whose report is due next month, and lawmakers should wait to see what that report says before taking action on this bill.
She’s also worried about the potential accessibility of the guns. “What about these students who may, all of a sudden, say, ‘Hey, they’ve got a gun. I’m going to get it.’ That is a huge concern of mine as a parent and as someone who works with educators.”