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June 29, 2017

Pa. Senate approves bill that would allow teachers to carry guns in school

Teachers and other school employees would be allowed to carry guns on school grounds and in buildings under a bill passed by the Pennsylvania Senate on Wednesday.

Despite Gov. Tom Wolf's vow to veto Senate Bill 383, the Senate took up a vote anyway and passed it on a 28-22 vote.

"Harrisburg can help schools be safer by giving them adequate funding so schools can hire trained security professionals like school resource or police officers, and counselors and support staff for students," Wolf said in a statement Thursday.

Under the premise of keeping students safe in case of a school shooting, especially for districts that can't afford to hire more school police officers or resource officers, the legislation gives school boards the option of letting licensed teachers and other personnel carry a firearm on school property. Districts would need to establish "proper guidelines" and teachers would have to pass through state police-approved firearms training.

Any school employee who wants to carry a gun in school would also have to pass a psychological examination, under an amendment filed Tuesday.

The bill's primary sponsor, state Sen. Don White (R-Armstrong, Butler, Indiana and Westmoreland), said in a statement that many schools in rural areas use state police, and response times can vary.

"If it becomes law, I will sleep better at night knowing our school districts have more tools at their disposal to fight the unspeakable evil that causes a few in our society to seek to harm our children," he said.

In a Senate memo dated Jan. 13, White said current state law is unclear on whether school personnel or parents can carry a gun on school property.

"I plan to introduce legislation to clear up the uncertainty in the law and establish a framework to serve as guidance for school districts," he stated.

Since White renewed efforts to pass the bill this year, the state's public teachers union, the Pennsylvania State Education Association, has strongly opposed it.

In a statement, the organization said the bill puts students and teachers at risk.

"PSEA will continue to support strategies to keep students safe,” said Jerry Oleksiak, the union's president. “This bill endangers students, and we remain strongly opposed to it.”

Whether to let teachers and other staff arm themselves in school has been up for debate as mass shootings in schools have risen in recent years, particularly after a gunman killed 28 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012.

Since then, some school districts around the country have already started arming select teachers.

Pennsylvania's bill would need to pass through committee and a full vote in the House before it hits Wolf's desk.