Armed school staff bill advances in Ohio statehouse

AP Photo/ Rick Bowmer

Constitutional Carry may be the biggest Second Amendment-related bill to win approval in Ohio this year, but hopefully it won’t be the last. Nearly four months after the Ohio House approved a measure that would once again allow for school districts across the state to have trained and vetted volunteer staff serve as an armed first line of defense against attacks on school grounds, the state Senate is now taking up the issue.

House Bill 99 received its first Senate hearing Wednesday in the Veterans and Public Safety Committee, with bill sponsor Rep. Thomas Hall, R-Madison Township, saying local schools need to be able to make decisions to protect students.

“At the end of the day, what we are talking about here is empowering our local schools to make the best decision for their students and educators so that our children feel safe and are safe in Ohio schools,” Hall said. “We have worked tirelessly on this bill to do our part in protecting our schools and our communities.”

For several years districts across the state were able to have armed school staff in place with no issue, but after several parents sued the Madison School District (with the help of Everytown for Gun Safety), the Ohio Supreme Court ultimately ruled that under current state law all armed school staff must undergo more than 700 hours of law enforcement training.

Under HB 99, those training standards would be dropped to a much more reasonable 20 hours, with 4 hours of annual training. Those volunteering to protect their school don’t need to waste hours of their time learning about processing evidence, defensive driving, and a host of other activities that police officers regularly perform but armed school staff members would never have cause to do. These staff members aren’t cops, and they’re not supposed to be. They only reason they’re carrying on campus is to stop a deadly attack aimed at students or staff members. Period.

The duty of those volunteers was one of the points raised in opposition to the bill by one police union in Ohio, whose representative warned that teachers may have to abandon their students if there is a threat on campus.

“If a school employee, regardless of her position, is carrying a firearm, they are considered on duty according to [the Ohio Revised Code],” Mike Weinman testified on behalf of the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio. “When armed, the teacher’s primary responsibility is no longer teaching but an armed first responder. She will be required to abandon her students and respond to whatever threat may be in the building at a moment’s notice.”

Six school districts and two county sheriff’s departments, however, testified in favor of the bill. “Trust the locally elected officials to do their jobs and govern on behalf of the people who elected them and put them in their positions. Trust that they care for the safety and well-being of their students and staff,” Ira Wentworth, superintendent of Indian Valley Local Schools, testified. “The school boards and those staff members who are selected and volunteer to conceal and carry are not the bad guys; they are the good guys wanting to protect others from the bad guys. Put your trust in the good guys.”

There are currently thousands of Ohio educators who have undergone the three-day FASTER training course and who were already carrying on campus before the state Supreme Court decision disarmed them on the job, and as far as I’m aware of there had been no issues reported in any of the districts that had set up an armed school staff policy. Many of these school districts are rural or smaller in size, and simply don’t have the budget to have a school resource officer in every building. In some districts it might take police ten minutes or more to arrive on campus, even in the most dire of circumstances, and that’s far too long to wait for an armed response when there’s someone actively attacking the students inside the school.

HB 99 would restore some sanity to the current law, and would be a huge boost to student safety in those districts that choose to have armed school staff members in place. I’m really glad to see the state Senate start to move on this bill, and I hope that, just like Constitutional Carry, it too will soon be sent to Mike DeWine’s desk for his signature.