Alaska bill would allow armed teachers, school personnel

The Anchorage Daily NewsJanuary 15, 2013 

— Rep. Bob Lynn, an Anchorage Republican, says school districts should be allowed to send teachers and other staff members into classrooms armed with guns, and is proposing a law that would do just that.

But because Alaska's gun laws are already among the most liberal in the United States, Lynn's proposed law, House Bill 55, would actually impose new restrictions on firearms.

The bill, prefiled last week, would require school district employees to undergo training and get a state permit before they could carry. Current law, which grants administrators the authority to let any adult without a felony record bring guns to school, has no such training or licensing requirement.

"It's not that I favor packing guns in school," said Lynn, who represents part of the Anchorage Hillside and is chairman of the State Affairs Committee. "I'm in favor of the school districts making up their own minds."

Lynn's bill, which so far has only him for a sponsor, would amend Alaska criminal code dealing with gun violations and other statutes regulating gun possession. He said the bill was his own idea and is not based on any model legislation by groups such as the NRA, which proposed that schools hire armed guards to protect students as a way to stop attacks like the one in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14.

PERMISSION TO PACK

The bill would allow public school districts and administrators for private and religious schools to designate staff members who can carry firearms, including concealed handguns, on school property. The bill says armed personnel must be permanent employees, not contractors, and it requires the district's governing body to adopt a written policy governing firearm possession and use. Armed employees must attend training approved by the state Public Safety commissioner and obtain a concealed handgun permit.

Current law is much simpler. It allows a firearm to be carried by an adult in a school or school bus if the chief administrator has approved. The law says any student -- even a preschooler -- can carry a "defensive" weapon with the same authorization. While firearms don't qualify as defensive weapons, electric stun guns and chemical mace do.

Lynn said it wasn't his primary intent to stiffen the law but suggested that might be beneficial.

"Don't you think it would be a good idea?" he said.

He said he mainly wants to give districts and private schools the choice.

"We've got to protect our kids, and how do you do that?" Lynn said. "Should you do that by arming somebody in the school? Should you do that by some other method? I'm not sure I know the answer to that, but that's why the school boards need to take this up and get input from the community, from all sides of that issue, and make up their own mind."

SUPERINTENDENTS RESPOND

Anchorage School Superintendent Jim Browder said he'd need to study Lynn's bill before commenting.

"I am not in favor of arming teachers," he said, but noted the district already has armed police officers at some schools.

Deena Paramo, superintendent of the Mat-Su schools, said she appreciated Lynn's bill for leaving it to local districts to decide. She said the district was already engaged in a "very deliberate, cogent study" of how to respond to school violence.

Parents have been contacting the Mat-Su district, she said. Some are demanding that all guns be kept out of schools, while others are urging the district bring in armed guards, perhaps retired police officers who would volunteer for the duty.

Paramo said she was aware of current law and had approved adults bringing firearms to schools -- principally for gun safety classes. No one has asked for permission to take a gun to school for security, she said.

Rep. Les Gara, an Anchorage Democrat, said he'd be leery of arming teachers.

"I'd be comfortable with police officers in the school, if we had the money for it, but to have non-commissioned officers in the school who might have mental issues, might not be good marksmen, who might not have good judgment -- I'd have to be convinced that that would make schools safer," Gara said.

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