The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

January 17, 2013

State lawmaker favors arming teachers

John Finnerty

— State Rep. Greg Lucas is in his first term as a lawmaker, but he comes to the job as a former teacher, a gun enthusiast and a resident of a town that experienced a school-related shooting a little over a decade ago.

So, in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting, Lucas, R-Edinboro, said that while he supports a variety of moves intended to boost school security, arming teachers ought to be part of the mix.

Lucas is the prime sponsor of legislation that would protect the right of teachers to carry concealed weapons in school as long as they submit to background checks and undergo the same sort of firearms handling training provided to law enforcement personnel.

Lucas is the former mayor of Edinboro and has been an instructor, coach and recruiter for the National Rifle Association.

In 1998 in Edinboro, a student arrived at a middle school dance at an off-school property with a pistol and began shooting. Three people were hit, including teacher John Gillette who died from his injuries.

A restaurant owner armed with a shotgun confronted the shooter and held him for 11 minutes until police arrived.

Lucas describes Gillette, the slain teacher, as a friend, and notes that he comes to this issue as not only a former teacher himself, but also the spouse of a teacher and the son of teachers.

Lucas said arming teachers is a measure that would augment other efforts to boost security.

“I’m all for resource officers,” Lucas said. “There isn’t enough money to go around and there are not enough resource officers.”

Under Lucas’ legislation, teachers would have to obtain licenses to carry concealed weapons and then take classes in safe weapons handling. But the proposed legislation would bar school districts from prohibiting teachers from carrying a weapon as long as they comply with rules spelled out in the bill.

Schools would be allowed to set guidelines regarding how the weapon is stored and transported to school.

There are already 18 states in the U.S. that allow teachers to carry firearms.

Lucas’ bill would require that educators obtain concealed carry certificates and undergo training for 15 hours a week for three months.

Because of the training requirement, Lucas said he does not believe the legislation would inspire many teachers to seek the right to carry weapons in school. But if a handful of teachers in each school begin to carry weapons, that would help overcome any limitations in school security if school districts are unable to fund enough school resource police officers.

Lucas noted that of the six school districts in his legislative district, only two have police officers in the schools. Even those districts with resource officers typically only have one or two to cover multiple school buildings.

Lucas’ legislation has been referred to the House Education Committee, but it was introduced with nine other co-sponsors including Rep. Bradley Roae, R-Meadville, and Rep. C. Adam Harris, R-Mifflintown.

Roae said he has had numerous conversations with constituents who support the idea of allowing teachers to carry guns.

“You don’t hear about mass shootings in areas where there are guns,” Roae said.

“Mass shootings take place in areas where guns are prohibited.”

Steve Robinson, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, said the group has no formal position on the question of arming teachers, though the statewide group believes it is a decision best made locally.

But PSBA staff members suggest that any school district considering arming teachers ought to give the plan a serious and careful review to ensure that the risks have been adequately addressed.

“I think most of our members would say that teachers and administrators are there to educate children” and that carrying firearms should be limited to school resource officers.

The school boards association spokesman pointed to a recent survey of teachers by the National Education Association that found that nearly 70 percent oppose arming teachers, including 61 percent who said they strongly disagree with the idea.

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