Pennsylvania Senate passes bill allowing teachers to pack heat at school

The bill reflects a growing sentiment on the right: more guns means more safety, even in schools.

Memorial signs posted near Sandy Hook Elementary School in Monroe, CT, following a 2012 shooting. CREDIT: AP Photo/Jessica Hill
Memorial signs posted near Sandy Hook Elementary School in Monroe, CT, following a 2012 shooting. CREDIT: AP Photo/Jessica Hill

Pennsylvania’s state senate passed a bill that would allow teachers with concealed-carry licenses to carry guns on school grounds, with a vote of 28–22.

The bill, passed on Wednesday, was introduced to “provid[e] for protection and defense of pupils” and will enable school districts in Pennsylvania to decide whether teachers and other school workers are allowed to carry guns in schools. “Certainly, we can pass the bill and none of the school districts in the commonwealth will implement it, and to me, that’s OK,” said the bill’s sponsor Don White (R-Indiana). “However, my suspicion is that some school districts will exercise this option, particularly those in rural Pennsylvania that rely on state police for protection.”

“Teachers have come to me and said I want the opportunity to defend my children and to defend my life and give me something more powerful than an eraser to throw at these people,” White said of the bill when it was first introduced in April.

Whether that’s true or not, there are other teachers who vocally oppose the bill. A letter from educators who survived the Sandy Hook shooting was read on the state Senate floor, urging legislators not to vote for the bill. And the Pennsylvania State Educators’ Association, a union made up of over 180,000 Pennsylvania teachers, released a statement on Wednesday emphasizing their opposition.

“Our Association does oppose arming teachers, education support professionals, and other school staff whose primary responsibility should continue to be educating students, not policing school buildings and grounds with firearms,” said PSEA president Jerry Oleksiak in the statement, adding that the bill “endangers students.”

There is support for arming schoolteachers at the highest level of government. President Donald Trump has been in opposition to gun-free zones at schools and elsewhere since he started his campaign, although his vow to eliminate them immediately after assuming office seems to have been forgotten. In January, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos mentioned offhandedly that there was “probably a gun” at a Wyoming school to protect from grizzly bears. Currently, eleven states have no laws on the books banning concealed-carry from schools.

Supporters of policies to arm teachers, like White, often suggest that armed teachers could protect their students from mass shootings. But there’s little indication that such policies actually protect students. An FBI study examining 160 “active shooter” incidents between 2000 and 2013 found that 20 of the 21 bystanders who successfully apprehended the shooter were unarmed. Eleven of those were unarmed school workers (teachers or principals) who successfully stopped a shooting.

There are also concerns that if teachers carry guns into schools, children will have easier access to them. Research compiled by the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety found 131 alleged accidental shootings by children so far in 2017.

As for the Pennsylvania bill, its future is uncertain. The Pennsylvania House told CBS on Wednesday that it had no immediate plans to take up the bill, and Governor Tom Wolf announced his intent to veto the bill back when it was first introduced in April. But its passage through the state Senate suggests that calls to end gun-free zones are making serious ground.