After a moment of silence, along with thoughts and prayers, in reaction to Wednesday’s Florida high school shooting that killed 17 people, chairmen of the Kentucky House and Senate Education committees said Thursday they would meet again to discuss school safety.
“We need to take a very deliberate approach in how we will address this in the Commonwealth. It’s something I’ve said before that it does not need to be a knee-jerk reaction. It is something that needs thoughtful consideration,” said Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, Chairman of the Senate Education Committee.
However, almost all the gun legislation filed so far this session would expand access to guns in schools, including one bill that would allow guns on university campuses, and another that would allow unlicensed guns in public.
Meanwhile, the Kentucky leader of an anti-gun violence movement said the Florida school shooting — just a few weeks after two students were killed at Marshall County High School in Western Kentucky— is another example of why such legislation should be tanked.
“It continues to show that we have an epidemic of gun violence in our country,” Connie Coartney, leader of the Kentucky chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America told the Herald-Leader. Before the shooting Wednesday, her group rallied at the Capitol in Frankfort opposing legislation before the 2018 General Assembly limiting gun restrictions at schools, partly in reaction to last month’s shooting at Marshall County High.
Just one proposal filed this session, House Bill 31, would impose penalties on people who “recklessly” store guns that allows minors access to them. But House Judiciary Chairman Joe Fischer, R-Fort Thomas, told the Herald-Leader last week, that he hadn’t read it yet.
The others expand access.
Under House Bill 210, a publicly funded college, university, or postsecondary education facility could not restrict the carrying or possession of a deadly weapon on school property by a person who holds a valid concealed deadly weapon license. The bill would also prohibit local governments from banning guns in government buildings. Rep. Tim Moore, an Air Force veteran, filed similar legislation last year. The current legislation is still in committee and is opposed by most higher education officials, who wish to continue the exemption to carry guns on campuses.
“Public universities in Kentucky are exempted from the concealed carry law. We support – and the officials on our campus charged with keeping our community safe support – maintaining that exemption,” said UK spokesman Jay Blanton.
In a 2012 decision by the Kentucky Supreme Court, justices said UK had unlawfully fired an employee for having a gun in his car. They ruled that university employees may keep licensed guns in their cars, but upheld the exemption for the rest of campus.
House Bill 36, sponsored by State Rep. Wesley Morgan, R- Richmond, would allow concealed deadly weapons to be carried without a license in the same locations as concealed carry license holders may carry them.
Senate Bill 103, sponsored by Stephen West, R-Paris, would include school marshals as persons exempt from the prohibition against possession of a firearm on school property if authorized by a public or private school board. Boards would be able to appoint school marshals who could carry a firearm in any public or private school building on any public or private school campus.
West told the Courier Journal his bill -- which would require marshals to have concealed carry permits and would limit the number of marshals each school could have — offers educators another tool to improve the safety of their institutions.
“It gives them another option to enhance their security within the school building and it allows them to not be a soft target,” the newspaper quoted West as saying.
Sen. John Schickel, R- Union, told the Herald-Leader that "after numerous constituents in my district asked me to do it,” he introduced Senate Resolution 172 that would urge the board of education or board of trustees of a school to allow teachers and other school personnel to carry firearms for their own protection.
According to state education officials, school board members can have a contract with someone, including a teacher or other school staff, to allow them to carry firearms on school grounds, under current federal and state law.
Schickel, in the resolution, advocated for the use of a training program called Protecting our Students and Teachers (POST) "to deter nefarious actors and initiate an immediate armed response through a thoroughness of training.”
House Education Committee chairman John Carney, R-Campbellsville, said he wants to look at current policies and practices regarding school safety.
Carney said if there are any Kentucky school districts that are not participating in efforts such as working with police on safety efforts, those districts should “stop denying the fact that it could be your district or your community and make sure you do everything you can to be one, preventive, and second, have the proper actions in place if it ever were to occur.”
But Anita Franklin of Lexington, a volunteer for Moms Demand Action, said the issue is pretty simple. On Wednesday, she spoke about her son Antonio Franklin Jr., who died in 2014 when he was shot in the head after he got caught in crossfire at Duncan Park in Lexington in a group where no one was older than 18..
“I’m totally against more guns in schools,” Franklin told the Herald-Leader on Thursday. “How can you learn if you have a teacher in front of you with a gun on his waist?”