Mississippi board of education votes to let schools set their own gun policies

Mississippi board of education votes to let schools set their own gun policies
(Richard Alan Hannon/The Advocate via AP)

The move by the state board of education isn’t likely to lead to armed staff members protecting kids in Mississippi’s few Democratic bastions like Jackson, but now that the board has said individual school districts can set their own policies when it comes to guns on campus many smaller and more rural schools may very well decide that having a few trained and vetted volunteer staffers carrying to protect the students in their care is a good idea.

Late last week the state board of education updated a 1990 policy that barred anyone other than law enforcement from carrying on school grounds, arguing that the old policy conflicts with the state’s “enhanced concealed carry” law. That law specifically allows those with the enhanced carry license to lawfully carry in some “sensitive places” deemed off-limits to those carrying with a regular license or under the state’s Constitutional Carry law, and as of now the board says that districts can choose to permit or forbid employees with enhanced permits from carrying on school grounds.

At the boarding meeting, Erin Meyer, the education department’s general counsel, said state law provides “local school districts with the authority and discretion to determine” its weapons policies. School districts can decide for themselves whether or not employees who hold enhanced carry licenses can bring guns onto school property.

School districts must also adopt policies that apply to non-employees. A 2013 state attorney general’s opinion argued teachers or administrators can refuse to meet with armed people in a “non-public” school area. Mississippi K-12 schools are closed to the public, but a school concert, play or sporting event is open to the public, Cook said.

Patricia Ice, a volunteer with the Mississippi chapter of Moms Demand Action, a gun reform organization, urged school districts to adopt policies that limit firearms on campus.

“Allowing teachers and members of the public to carry guns in our K-12 schools is a dangerous idea that will further jeopardize the safety of students and staff alike,” Ice said. “We need the adults in the room to make evidence-based policy decisions that will actually keep our children safe, rather than making decisions that will put more guns in their classrooms and put our kids at risk.”

Ice can’t point to any issue in states where teachers and staff are authorized to legally carry a firearm on campus as a deterrent to a targeted attack against students, but Moms Demand Action has long opposed the idea anyway. In fact, Moms Demand Action and their parent group Everytown for Gun Safety helped sue to overturn Ohio’s armed school staff statutes, forcing lawmakers in the Buckeye State to craft new legislation this year ensuring that districts have the flexibility to adopt the practice if they choose.

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.”

We already have plenty of evidence that the most important thing that can be done to save lives if a cowardly killer enters a school intent on slaughtering students is to act, and having an armed presence on campus increases the chances of an immediate response. That’s what saves lives, not bloviating about “guns in the classroom.”

As we’ve mentioned several times here at Bearing Arms, studies from Purdue University’s Homeland Security Institute have shown that having both a school resource officer who can engage the attacker and armed school staff who can shelter in place with their students if escape is not an option is the most effective way to stop an active shooter in a school setting. It’s sad that Moms Demand Action and Everytown for Gun Safety are so blinded by their hatred of gun ownership that they’re arguing to keep students defenseless, but thankfully they won’t be getting their way in Mississippi schools.