By Matthew Young, RealWV
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Despite powerful testimony from Ron Arthur, school safety and security administrator for the W.Va. Division of Protective Services, the House Education Committee, on Wednesday, advanced a bill which would allow elementary, middle, and high school personnel to carry concealed handguns on school property. The committee’s meeting – which lasted well over three hours – was often contentious, frequently disorganized, and, at several points, chaotic.
While explaining potential school-shooting scenarios, Arthur – who retired as a Captain from the West Virginia State Police – said, “You’re in a school and it’s chaos and you’re under stress. It’s worse than people can imagine unless you’ve been there in real life.”
“You place a really good shot under stress, and it goes through soft tissue and it hits a 12-year-old girl that’s standing behind the target,” Arthur continued. “That’s asking a lot (of school personnel).”
Introduced by Del. Doug Smith, R-Mercer, HB 2549 would allow elementary and secondary school teachers, administrators or support personnel to be designated as a “school protection officer (SPO).” These individuals must be in possession of a valid concealed carry permit. The position of SPO would be considered voluntary, and duties would be performed in addition to all other responsibilities. However, each school district would be required to fund any training required for a designated protection officer.
According to Smith, 35 states currently allow school personnel to carry concealed weapons.
“It’s not political,” Smith said, after citing New Jersey as being one of the 35 states.
As stated in the text of the bill: “Any person designated by a school district as a school protection officer shall be authorized to carry concealed firearms or a stun gun or taser device in any school in the district.” Aerosol devices, such as pepper spray, would be prohibited.
The bill also states that SPOs would remain anonymous. Furthermore, information obtained for the purposes of designating an individual as an SPO would be kept confidential, and, “may not be subject to a request for public records.”
“I will respectfully oppose this legislation as I don’t agree with all the elements of it,” Del. Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, said. “We didn’t listen to the concerns of students that might be in that classroom. I would submit to this body that it’s going to make it awfully hard and challenging in those schools when you have at least half of those students having a personality clash with teachers because they have a firearm, especially if it’s a classroom dealing with students who have behavioral disabilities. Where does that leave us?”
“I think that, while the intent is very good – I agree with the intent – I think there’s just a better way to do this that also listens to the concerns of parents, students, and teachers,” Hornbuckle added.
Del. Todd Longanacre, R-Greenbrier, felt differently, saying, “There are increased mass-shooting events, seemingly weekly, across this nation.”
“This bill, I would submit, increases security for those teachers, for those students,” Longanacre continued. “Even if no teacher decides to volunteer for this, the would-be shooters do not know that. All they know is, ‘Uh-oh, there’s a law – this place might be a hardened target.’”
“They (armed school personnel) will be a deterrent to death, not a catalyst for it,” Longancre concluded.
Should HB 2549 become law, any school wishing to designate one or more protection officers would be required to hold a public hearing to decide if such a designation will be allowed. Notice of that public hearing must be published a minimum of 15 days in advance.
In summation of the bill, Del. Smith said, “It’s one more tool in the toolbox to protect the lives of our children.”
With the approval of the House Education Committee, HB 2549 will now be forwarded to the Judiciary Committee. RealWV will provide updates regarding the progress of HB 2549 as additional information is made available.