By Rep. Ray Ring
The days of only “easy” bills that pass unanimously ended this week. The Education Committee, on which I serve, considered HB1087, which would allow school boards to arm “school employees, hired security personnel or volunteers” to protect children, staff and others on school premises. This is in stark contrast to current law, which allows only law enforcement officers to carry guns on school premises.
Most of the proponents who testified were state legislators, a couple of whom were former teachers. They felt the proposals would better protect against persons intent on mass murder. Opponents were educators or persons representing educators (South Dakota Education Association, School Administrators of South Dakota and Associated School Boards of South Dakota). They believe that arming teachers or volunteers with minimal training would deteriorate schools’ learning environments without significantly improving school safety.
The bill was amended to require the county sheriff’s permission for such a program and that “school sentinels” must receive training prescribed by the South Dakota Law Enforcement Officers Standards Commission. The amendment and the amended bill each passed 8-7. I voted for the amendment but against the bill. The following summarizes the statement I made during committee debate.
I received twice as many e-mails from opponents as from proponents, and the opponents were generally much more thorough and convincing in making their case. Of the e-mails that I could identify as being from teachers or school administrators, a couple of them supported the bill. Many more educators opposed it, including five superintendents of school districts in or near District 17.
Probably the most compelling testimony for me came from two very experienced, high-ranking military officers who have extensive training and personal experience with dangerous, life-threatening situations. One is president of the Lead school board; the other is superintendent of the New Underwood School District. They convinced me that teachers, other employees or volunteers – even those with some training – are not prepared to deal with a violent individual in a school. One warned of “inevitable accidental discharges” and “unintended consequences”.
There are many ways to increase school safety without risking those unintended consequences. Many schools (including some in District 17) already have school resource officers. Other security improvements are possible if we provide the necessary funding. I believe an accidental gun discharge – and the tragedy that could result – is far more likely than is a violent attack on a South Dakota school. More guns are not the answer, when there are so many less risky preventive measures.
Except for a minority, folks most involved with, most invested in, and most knowledgeable about schools don’t think guns are the answer. I’ll side with the experts.
Please come to one of the upcoming cracker barrels: Vermillion City Hall, Feb. 2, 10 a.m.; Irene Community Center, Feb. 9, 10 a.m.; Marion School Gym, Feb. 9, 1 p.m. You can contact me directly at Rep.Ring@state.sd.us or (605) 675-9379.