I don’t think we’ve covered SB 2079 in Mississippi before now, but the bill allowing school districts to authorize and approve armed school staff is quietly making its way through the state legislature, and is poised for final passage after the House approved the measure, albeit with some amendments, earlier this month. Those changes forced the bill into a conference committee to hash out the differences, but it doesn’t look like the overall legislation is in much danger of being sidelined as a result.
Under the version of the bill approved by the Senate, school districts would have the ability to vet and train staffers with an enhanced concealed carry permit to serve as “School Guardians”. The House version would expand districts’ authority and allow them to designate non-staff members as Guardians as well, though they’d still have to go through the required screening and training before they could carry.
Mississippi Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell has said he prefers the Senate version of the bill, but I can understand why House members voted to make that change. Most of the school districts that would avail themselves of the Guardian program are going to be rural and fairly small places, and the potential pool of Guardians among the school staff is likely to be awfully shallow. Expanding that program out to members of the community makes sense to me. Why not have a retired law enforcement officer, educator, or even a concerned parent serve in that role if need be?
I will admit, however, that there could be a hiccup for those districts hoping to do so: their insurance rates.
The proposed program, largely borne of concern regarding the rising rate of school shootings nationally, is intended to provide school districts with another way to increase school security. The risks associated with the program, including accidents related to carrying a gun and potential increases in insurance costs will likely prevent most districts from participating, though some districts have already expressed interest.
Marcus Burger of Ross and Yerger, a local insurance agency, said one insurance carrier has already expressed to him it does not plan to cover any liability related to the program. He doesn’t expect to see mainstream insurance carriers offer policies until the program has been around for a few years to give carriers a better understanding of the risks. When Kansas passed a law in 2013 to allow armed teachers (with no special training) on school campuses, the state’s primary liability insurance carrier declined to cover districts with armed employees. Burger added some higher-risk carriers may offer coverage, potentially for a higher premium.
The Mississippi Today article makes it sound like that the insurance rates are likely to go up regardless of whether the House or Senate version of the bill become law, but I wonder if any hikes wouldn’t be higher if districts are allowing non-employees to serve as Guardians as well.
Even if that is the case, if districts are willing and able to shoulder that financial burden they should have the option to do so. For those districts that want to have School Guardians in place, being able to select the best candidates from their entire community makes sense. The Senate’s version of HB 2079 isn’t a bad bill by any means, but the House changes are still an improvement in my view, and I hope that they stick during the conference committee negotiations.