Arkansas Legislature
Considers Training/Arming
School Teachers
By Noel E. Oman
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
From James Roger Brown <>
State lawmaker offers safer-school proposal: Let teachers pack guns
Students with guns had terrible effects at Littleton, Colo., Paducah, Ky., and near Jonesboro, where two students last year killed four classmates and a teacher and wounded 10 others.
What can be done to prevent such horrors in the future?
Some strategists ask: What if teachers had guns? What if they were trained to use the weapons? Could they make a difference?
Rep. Marvin Parks, R-Greenbrier, has no answers, but he wants Arkansas to ponder the questions before the Legislature meets in 2001.
Parks has asked the House and Senate Interim Committees on Education to explore the feasibility of allowing schoolteachers to attend the state Law Enforcement Training Academy to "better prepare themselves to deal with violence on school premises."
His proposal is one of two school-safety studies lawmakers may consider in formulating legislation for the 2001 legislative session.
The other study proposal, sponsored by Reps. Bobby Glover, D-Carlisle, and Shane Broadway, D-Benton, requests a more comprehensive review of what the state can do to make schools safer.
Both proposals are pending before the committees.
In an interview, Parks acknowledged that the unstated aim of his proposal was to consider whether to allow teachers to carry guns if they are qualified and if they have the desire. "I want them to be prepared to respond to that [school violence] and to meet it if they have to," Parks said.
He is not wedded to the idea, he said. He wants it considered as an alternative to having a certified law enforcement officer in every school.
"It is not the long-term solution," Parks said. "But we've got to put security on campus. How would you do it for every school district in the state?"
Some of the bigger school districts in the state have a certified law enforcement officers, often known as school resource officers, stationed on some campuses. But having a resource officer on every campus in all 310 school districts might prove too costly, Parks said.
Having a teacher or school administrator who also was a certified law enforcement officer would save money, he said.
Parks, a freshman, said carrying a gun into the classroom never occurred to him during his 14 years as a teacher of eighth-grade and ninth-grade mathematics in the Conway public schools.
He left the profession three years ago, before the Littleton, Jonesboro, and Paducah shootings.
The idea of arming teachers occurred to him when he learned of the science teacher who was shot while trying to escort students to safety during the Littleton shooting, Parks said. "What if someone had been there, prepared and qualified to respond to that situation," he said.
He bounced the idea of some local constituents, including two school superintendents and a police officer. "All agreed that it is something worth talking about," Parks said.
He already has heard the argument that teachers are burdened enough without undergoing law enforcement training, which would be voluntary under his proposal. But he suggested that teachers without the qualifications are under a heavy burden when violence erupts on campus. "You are putting more on me in that situation when you don't give me the resources to deal with it," Parks said.
Under his plan, teachers could undergo training similar to what police officers undergo to become certified through the state Law Enforcement Training Academy at East Camden.
A prospective police officer undergoes 12 weeks of training, or 480 hours of instruction, said Steve Farris, deputy director of the training division for the Law Enforcement Standards and Training Commission, which oversees the academy.
About 15 percent of the training, or 73 hours, is firearms instruction, Farris said. The prospective officers also must meet minimum marksmanship standards to be certified, he said. Other areas of emphasis include use of force, ethics, defensive tactics, Arkansas criminal law and response to violence, Farris said.
Parks said he would not be comfortable with the idea of a teacher carrying a gun on campus if he only had to meet the standards that citizens must meet to qualify to carry a concealed weapon.
The same idea that Parks wants studied has provoked controversy elsewhere. He said he didn't know that.
This month, an Ohio school superintendent resigned in the wake of an outcry that erupted when he suggested arming teachers. John Varis, chief of Readings Schools, had been under fire since Oct. 15 when he made comments about the merits of arming teachers to protect students. That drew sharp criticism from some, but the superintendent said he was simply brainstorming school safety ideas.
Varis is not the first official to create controversy in the discussion about battling school violence. Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura came under criticism when he suggested that if teachers had been carrying concealed weapons, they might have prevented the April shootings in Littleton, which left 15 dead and nearly two dozen hurt.
"Let's remember that very often, if you were to have someone with a legitimate conceal-and- carry weapon, you can stop crimes like this from happening," Ventura said at the time.
The ensuing uproar prompted Ventura to say he regretted the remarks and that schools are no place for weapons.
Also this year, Georgia Schools Superintendent Linda Schrenko proposed a state law authorizing administrators with the proper training to carry Mace, pepper spray or stun guns.
University of Chicago Law School fellow John R. Lott Jr. also has advocated arming teachers, saying it would deter violence.
But mainline education groups, such as the National Education Association and National Center for the Study of School Violence in Raleigh, N.C., have not included the option in their strategies to reduce school violence.
Education Secretary Richard Riley dismissed the idea this summer. "If you are in a situation where a teacher has to carry a gun, then you are in a prison-type situation," he said in an interview with the Denver Post while attending an education conference in Denver.
Riley noted that "school is still the safest place in the community." Less than 1 percent of all homicides among school-age children -- ages 5 to 19 -- occur in or around public schools, he said.
This article was published on Friday, November 26, 1999 _____
Copyright © 1999, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Inc. All rights reserved.


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