Missouri bill would expand armed school staff

AP Photo/ Rick Bowmer

Four years ago, Missouri lawmakers approved a measure allowing teachers and school administrators to serve as a first line of defense in the case of a targeted attack on a school. Now some legislators are hoping to expand the law to allow all school staff to be able to do the same.

On Wednesday, the Missouri House of Representatives gave a preliminary nod of approval to the bill, which might even end up drawing the (reluctant) support of a handful of Democrats.

Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, asked the House to consider the hypocrisy of giving local control to schools over firearms and not on masking policies — but said he would probably end up supporting this legislation. In the same way the schools have to weigh the risks of having more guns with preventing gun violence, they also have to weigh wearing masks with the potential social and educational detriments.

Other Democrats, however, were less enthused about the intentions behind the bill.

Rep. Maggie Nurrenbern, D-Kansas City, said it could simply increase the policing of children.

The bill does not limit the number of school protection officers in each school. So in theory, Nurrenbern said every staff member could decide to carry a concealed firearm in their school. While she acknowledged that this is unlikely, it is technically possible.

And? What exactly would be the issue with that? Under both the current law and the bill proposed by Rep. Chris Dinkins, anyone hoping to serve as a school protection officer has to first volunteer, be vetted, and then go through 112 hours of training, along with an 18-hour annual recertification course. If every teacher in a given school was willing to do that, I’d give them a round of applause and help throw a party for them.

Despite Nurrenbern’s objections, armed school staff are not police officers, and their role as school protection officers revolves around preventing or quickly responding to an attack on students. Still, some lawmakers are just opposed to the idea on general principles.

As a school counselor, Rep. Raychel Proudie, D-Ferguson, said she believes that having a gun in a classroom disrupts a safe learning environment. Proudie explained to the House that though she is comfortable with guns and uses them herself, a classroom is not the right place for a firearm.

The good news for Rep. Proudie is that under no circumstances would she ever be required to carry a firearm on campus. After all, the school protection officer program is entirely voluntary, and if she doesn’t want to volunteer that’s entirely up to her.

But it’s also worth pointing out that students most likely will have no idea which teachers or school staff members will be serving as school protection officers, unless one of those staffers is forced to use their firearm to protect the kids in their care. These staffers are carrying to maintain a safe learning environment, not to disrupt or destroy it. And given the fact that the law has already been in place for nearly four years without issue, Proudie’s argument just isn’t backed up by evidence.

The measure still requires a final vote in the House before moving over to the Senate, but it looks at the moment like the bill stands a good chance of getting to Gov. Mike Parson’s desk in the coming weeks. Turning this bill into a law would be a big step towards making school campuses more secure and safer places, and I truly hope Missouri lawmakers are able to get it done before the current session winds up in May.