Bill to arm educators heads to full Senate without further public hearing

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – A bill that would allow educators to carry guns with their school district’s permission is headed to the full state Senate after a committee vote Wednesday morning.

The central question for lawmakers was whether local school districts should be able to decide whether or not to arm their own teachers and administrators.

Sen. Don White (R-Indiana) thinks they should.

“I’m looking for that concerned teacher that wants the ability to protect his institution,” White said after the committee meeting where he presented his proposal.

His bill is a rehash of a previous one that failed; it would let school boards choose whether or not to arm educators. The teacher or administrator would have to pass some type of training and have a concealed carry permit to qualify.

“The teachers that have come to me have said, ‘I want the opportunity to defend my children and defend my life,'” he said, “‘and give me something more powerful than an eraser to throw at these people.'”

Democratic Sen. Anthony Williams, who represents parts of Philadelphia and Delaware counties, gets the purpose behind the bill, but he told White he wants to know more.

Some lawmakers, including himself, weren’t on the Education Committee in 2014, he said, when the bill came up the last time and the panel held a two-hour public hearing about it.

His request for another was voted down. Committee chairman Sen. John Eichelberger (R-Hollidaysburg) said the committee was already booked up with requests for other hearings around the state.

“I’m frankly stunned,” Williams told the rest of the panel. “The maker of the bill has said he’s willing to have a hearing.”

Opponents of the idea filled the gallery, including someone in a bear costume holding a sign that urged lawmakers to “keep kids safe (and Grizzlies, too)” — a jab at comments made by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy Devos in her confirmation hearing.

“Although I do believe Sen. White is well-intentioned,” one of the opponents Shira Goodman said, “I think that this is going to make it more dangerous.”

Goodman is executive director of the gun safety advocacy group CeaseFirePA. She pointed to an incident in Chambersburg last year in which a teacher at a private school left her loaded gun in the bathroom.

A student found it and told a parent.

Goodman and other advocates say this new measure could harm more than it helps.

“A kid who is in crisis who wants to hurt somebody, who wants to hurt themselves,” she said, “we may have just given them access to the means to do so.”

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