Senators Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn, and Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, hosted a press conference on Wednesday to introduce their bills meant to increase school safety and mental health awareness. Photo by Taylor McAvoy

Senators Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn, and Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, hosted a press conference on Wednesday to introduce their bills meant to increase school safety and mental health awareness. Photo by Taylor McAvoy

Lawmakers introduce provision to allow guns in schools

The bill would allow, but not require, adults to carry concealed weapons.

Republican lawmakers introduced a bill that would allow school administrators, and in some cases teachers, to carry firearms in Washington state classrooms.

The move is in response to conversations around gun legislation and school safety programs that have gripped the country since the shooting deaths of 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

While the bill allows for concealed weapons to be carried on campus by qualified adults, SB 6622 does not require it. If school officials plan to implement the program, the bill requires screening to determine if the school district is fit for such a program. It also requires training with the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission.

Lawmakers unveiled the bill at a press conference on Wednesday, Feb. 28.

As an example of how such a law might work, Senator Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn, the bill’s prime sponsor, pointed to the Toppenish School District, which already implements a concealed carry program. That district passed its gun policy in 2014, in response to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012.

The policy only arms administrators, not teachers, district Superintendent John Cerna said. The Yakima Herald reported that in 2016, 18 administrators volunteered to carry guns and undergo the training required. However, they remain anonymous due to safety concerns, Cerna said.

The training, he explained, is twice per month for two hours each time with law enforcement in the classroom and on a shooting range.

“It’s logical to say, we have to have something in place where we can have immediate response inside that school,” Jon Ladines, active shooter training instructor and owner of Force Dynamics Security Consulting, said.

“Gap training,” Ladines calls it, teaches school staff members who are unarmed to fortify and defend rooms until police arrive. Still, he said, it’s important to have someone there to protect students if an active shooter gets through a door.

“We keep missing the mark with passing different types of legislation,” he said. “The bottom line is that you can’t take away the human element of protection.”

Currently, 18 states allow armed adults on school property.

During a meeting with state governors at the White House to discuss gun violence issues on Monday, Feb. 26, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee confronted President Donald Trump, who had suggested that teachers who are adept with guns should be allowed to bring them to schools in order to protect children.

“Educators should educate and they should not be foist upon this responsibility of packing heat in first grade classes,” Inslee responded.

Representative Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, proposed a similar idea to the president’s during a Republican leadership media availability on Feb. 15, the day after the shooting in Parkland, Florida. He suggested arming teachers who are already trained to use firearms.

“Until the federal government and the state legislature really take a look at the mental illness that is occurring across the country and across the state, we’re going to continue to have carnage in schools,” Superintendent Cerna said.

Another proposal to address the school shooting threat has drawn bipartisan support. SB 6618, sponsored by Senator Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, would require every school in Washington State, public and private, to employ at least one licensed mental health counselor. The bill is meant to encourage communication between students, counselors and teachers.

“What’s missing is we’re not helping our children,” Bailey said. “We’re not helping our kids who are under a great deal of stress; who are working hard to accomplish their academics.”

This report was produced by the Olympia bureau of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association.

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