DeWine signs armed school staff bill, gun control groups call it a "slap in the face"

AP Photo/ Rick Bowmer

For several years, educators and school staff in the state of Ohio could carry on campus once they’d been vetted and undergone several days of specialized training, but that came to a screeching halt last year when the state Supreme Court ruled that, under existing state law, any staff member carrying on campus had to first go through the 728 hours of training required to become a certified law enforcement officer in the state.

Everytown for Gun Safety was a big backer of the lawsuit that generated that ruling, because apparently “commonsense gun reform” means ensuring that no teacher or staff member can serve as a first line of defense in case of a targeted attack on campus. The group continued to oppose legislative efforts to change the law in question, but I’m pleased to report that their attempts to block districts from improving school security have failed. On Monday, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed legislation that sets the minimum training standard for armed school staff at a much more reasonable 24 hours.

“In life we make choices, and we don’t always know what the outcome is going to be,” DeWine said at a news conference. “What this Legislature has done, I’ve done by signing it, is giving schools an option based on their particular circumstances to make the best decision they can make with the best information they have. That’s all any decision-maker can do.”

Ohio school districts are not required to allow staff to carry firearms under the law. House Bill 99 allows local boards of education to decide whether they want staff to carry firearms at all and how much training will be required.

DeWine said he directed the Ohio School Safety Center to require at least 24 hours of training and eight hours of requalification training each year. The move appeared aimed at eliminating confusion among lawmakers over whether the bill established a minimum number of training hours.

Private businesses that want to train school staff must also meet the 24-hour minimum to have their curriculum approved, DeWine said.

Before the original armed school staff program was undone by the state Supreme Court, thousands of educators from dozens of school districts across the state had undergone training through the FASTER Saves Lives program; each and every one of them volunteers. The effort was especially popular in rural districts and smaller schools that either couldn’t afford to have a school resource officer in place or wanted an extra layer of security in case of a targeted attack on schools, but anti-gun activists from groups like Everytown and Moms Demand Action have criticized the program for “putting guns in the classroom,” and hours after DeWine signed the bill on Monday the Ohio chapter of Moms Demand Action released a statement calling the new measure a “slap in the face”.

“The fact that Governor DeWine signed this bill to let barely trained, armed teachers in our classrooms just weeks after a horrific mass shooting at an elementary school is a slap in the face to gun violence survivors everywhere,” said Sara Salsbury, a volunteer with the Ohio chapter of Moms Demand Action. “Time and time again, Governor DeWine has made it clear that he would rather appease the gun lobby and extremists than do what’s right for Ohioans and our kids. And to make it even worse, this news comes the same day permitless carry officially goes into effect. We don’t need more guns in our classrooms – by signing this bill into law, Governor DeWine is choosing to put our kids’ lives on the line.”

Armed school staff members aren’t law enforcement, and there’s simply no reason for them to have to go through 728 hours of training that includes things like defensive driving, arrest procedures, evidence handling, and a host of other duties that will simply never come into play. These armed school staff members have volunteered to take one one very important duty: protecting students and other staff from an active shooter on campus. That’s it. They’re not going to be whipping out their gun to break up a fight in the hallway or to escort a student to the principal’s office, and there were zero issues with the state’s armed school staff program before the Ohio Supreme Court issued its ruling last year.

We also have research showing that armed school staff members do save lives if an attacker targets a school, but that doesn’t matter to the gun grabbers at Everytown and Moms Demand Action. They would rather have students and staff wait helplessly for off-campus police to arrive than have an armed response on campus, even if that means innocent lives are lost during those critical minutes.

There’s nothing “reasonable” about that at all. If school districts don’t want to have armed staff members they don’t have to adopt this program, but what really galls the gun control groups is that this program is popular and effective. It’s also a glaring act of hypocrisy on their part, given that these anti-gun organizations are all about local control and choice when it comes to putting gun control laws in place. When it comes to student safety, however, they demand a one-size-fits-all solution that blocks local school districts from deciding for themselves how best to protect the students in their care.

Thankfully, they lost this particular fight, and I suspect that the trainers at FASTER Saves Lives are going to have a very busy summer as districts across the state put their new policies in place so that students can have that extra layer of security when classes resume in the fall.