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April 19, 2017

Bill introduced to allow Pa. teachers to carry guns; Wolf promises veto

A Pennsylvania lawmaker renewed an effort this week to allow public school officials to carry firearms on campus while Gov. Tom Wolf voiced opposition.

The Senate Education Committee approved Senate Bill 383 Wednesday to establish guidelines for school districts to authorize certain personnel to have access to guns. After passing by a 9-3 vote, the bill will now move to the full legislative body for consideration.

State Sen. Don White, the bill's primary sponsor, argues the measure would improve the safety of students, teachers and school staff. The Republican, representing Indiana County in Western Pennsylvania, had previously introduced the bill last session.

"My bill would allow school personnel to have access to firearms in school safety zones if they receive authorization from the school board of directors, are licensed to carry a concealed firearm and have met certain training requirements in the use and handling of firearms," White said in January when he announced his intent to re-introduce the bill.

White clarified that the proposed law would not force school boards to participate but allow officials to establish a policy.

Meanwhile, critics of the bill were quick to offer resistance and vowed to prevent its passage.

Wolf opposes the legislation and will veto the bill if it reaches his desk, said J.J. Abbott, the Democratic governor's press secretary.

"School personnel shouldn’t be told that the only help they will get from Harrisburg to make schools safer is the option to carry a loaded gun around their students," Abbott wrote. “Harrisburg can help schools be safer by giving them adequate funding so schools can hire trained security professionals like school resource or police officers should school professionals feel they need it, and counselors and support staff for students. Governor Wolf would also support increasing funding for the Department of Education’s Safe Schools Initiative.”

The Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state's public teachers union, called the bill "misguided" and would not make schools safer.

"This legislation would create more problems for first responders arriving at the scene of an armed confrontation, making it more difficult to immediately distinguish a perpetrator from a school employee," said Jerry Oleksiak, the union's president. "PSEA is for strategies that keep students safe. This bill doesn't keep students safe. That's why we oppose it."

Still, White asserted the bill would provide another option for schools to enhance safety.