Chesterton Tribune

Indiana panel poised to drop school guns mandate

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Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) A proposal to require a gun-carrying employee in all of Indiana's public and charter schools seemed on the verge of being dropped by legislators Monday.

The chairman of the House committee currently considering the bill said he expected changes would be made before it advances, while the bill's main House sponsor signaled he wouldn't fight to keep the mandate, which was added last week.

The House Ways and Means Committee heard brief testimony Monday and faced a Tuesday deadline to advance the bill to the full House. If the measure goes unchanged, Indiana would become the first state in the country to require armed school employees.

Supporters of the measure say that would lessen the vulnerability of schools to violent attacks such as the December elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., in which 20 students and six teachers died. But since the mandate was added, Republican Gov. Mike Pence, Democratic state schools superintendent Glenda Ritz and leaders of Indiana schools and teachers' organizations have come out against it.

House Ways and Means Chairman Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, said Monday afternoon he wasn't exactly sure what changes would be made to the bill, which also aims to start a state grant program to help school districts buy safety equipment and hire police officers who've undergone extra training.

"I think there has been a strong sense that mandate isn't very popular," Brown said.

At issue is whether people not trained as police officers such as teachers or principals should have the responsibility of carrying a loaded gun, as well as questions about the potential financial cost of ensuring that person is present during all regular school hours.

State law currently allows school districts to authorize people other than police officers to have guns on school property, although several officials have said they don't know of any district that has done it.

The bill's main House sponsor, Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel, didn't propose the armed employees requirement in the House Education Committee and didn't defend it during an interview Monday.

"I'm not necessarily comfortable with the requirement," Torr said. "I think it might be better to leave that decision with local school districts."

A National Rifle Association-sponsored study released last week recommended schools across the nation each train and arm at least one staff member. Lawmakers in more than 20 states are considering proposals to allow armed school employees, but no states currently require it, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Rep. Woody Burton, R-Whiteland, voted in favor of the mandate last week and said Monday he still believes it's a good idea.

"We have to think outside the box. This is not just anybody carrying a gun, this is somebody properly trained," Burton said. "It's a symbol of protection for the school."

A message seeking comment was left Monday for a National Rifle Association spokesman.

Representatives of the NAACP, an Indianapolis ministers group and other spoke against the mandate during Monday's House committee hearing. No one testified in favor of it.

Adopting the mandate would be an "embarrassment" for Indiana, said Peg Paulson of Carmel, a steering committee member for the Indianapolis chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. The group formed after the Connecticut school shooting.

"We do not believe that more guns make us more safe," Paulson said. "If that were the case, then the United States would be the safest country on earth."

Posted 4/8/2013