Columns

Pennsylvania Teachers Might Be Allowed to Carry Guns in Class

Daniel Walmer, a reporter for the Lebanon Daily News, shoots a Smith & Wesson .22 at Lanco Tactical's Suppressor Day at the Lebanon County, Pa., Police Combat Pistol Club on July 10, 2016. (Jeremy Long/Lebanon Daily News via AP)

Pennsylvania state Sen. Don White (D) said he would “sleep better at night” once public school teachers get the right to carry guns to school and are prepared to “fight the unspeakable evil that causes a few in our society to seek to harm our children.”

“In the aftermath of a number of tragic school shootings, the debate continues across the country on how we can better protect our children,” White said. “I believe we need to consider providing school employees with more choices than just locking a door, hiding in a closet or diving in front of bullets to protect students.”

“While most of this discussion surrounds whether or not more gun control measures are needed, I believe we must look at all options when it comes to improving the safety and security of our children, teachers and school staff,” he added.

But psychologist Peter Langman and Fritz Walker, a board member of the anti-gun group CeaseFirePA, said the idea of allowing public school teachers and staff to carry guns into the classroom is “irresponsible.”

Langman and Walker warned in an Allentown Morning Call op-ed that students could steal a school’s funds, innocent people could be shot and, in a worst-case scenario, responding police officers wouldn’t be able to tell the teachers from the assailants.

“We know from numerous studies that guns in homes are associated with multiple-factor increases (rather than decreases) in rates of death from homicide, suicide or accidental shooting. There’s nothing to suggest that schools would be any different,” Langman and Walker wrote.

Even if all of that wasn’t true, Langman and Walker contend White has exaggerated the number  of schools being attacked by armed assailants and the danger they pose.

They pointed to a 2016 National Center for Education Statistics Report that showed an average of 21 students, between the ages of 5 and 18, were the victims of homicides in America’s schools over a 10-year period.

Over the same 10 years, 2002-2003 to 2012-2013, nearly 1,500 children the same age were the victims of homicides outside of school.

“Homes are far and away the place where most homicides occur, followed by our streets,” Langman and Walker wrote.

Still, the Pennsylvania Senate approved, and the House Education Committee is reviewing, the legislation White proposed.

Under its provisions, Pennsylvania’s public school teachers and staff, with a carry permit and proof of firearms training, would be able to bring a gun to school.

SB 383 would allow Pennsylvania’s local school districts to draw up policies permitting school faculty and staff access to firearms in the school building or on school property. The local police department would have to approve the plan.

Jerry Oleksiak, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, termed the legislation “misguided.”

“Teachers are not trained law enforcement officers. Their job is to educate children and act as role models,” Oleksiak said. “PSEA is for strategies that keep students safe. This bill doesn’t keep students safe.”

Still, White said the idea for SB 383 came from Mark Zilinskas, a high school mathematics teacher, after a student stabbed 20 students and a security guard.

“Teachers are going to act no matter what, whether they’re armed or not armed,” Zilinskas told the Tribune-Review. He also wants teachers to be trained to treat severe injuries, such as gunshot wounds.

Rick Capozzi, founder of Capozzi Group and Survival Mindset, a business that put on a self-defense seminar for teachers in Altoona, Pa., supports the legislation.

“When somebody has a firearm,” he told WTAJ, “it significantly levels the playing field.”

However White feels about his legislation, it looks like he will have to rally enough support to override Gov. Tom Wolf’s (D) promise to veto the legislation if it is to become law.

“School personnel shouldn’t be told that the only help they will get from Harrisburg to make schools safer is the option to carry a loaded gun around their students,” Wolf’s spokesman, J.J. Abbott, said in a statement.

But state Sen. John Eichelberger (R) said some districts have no better option than to give guns to teachers who are trained to fight back against an armed attacker.

“Rural districts may not see a trooper for a long time, if there is an incident,” Eichelberger told WTAJ. “If there are people (in the school) who capable and armed; they can stop a lot of death and carnage.”