The South Dakota legislature has voted by a margin of 21-14 to pass a bill allowing school staff and teachers to be armed in the classroom. School administrators and staff had opposed the measure, but supporters reason that the law will prevent a repeat of incidents such as Sandy Hook and Columbine.
According to the sponsor of the bill, Republican Senator Craig Tieszen, the choice to arm staff and teachers would be left up to the individual school districts.
Senator Tieszen told reporters that those who would choose to commit these crimes would be less likely if they thought the teachers and staff were armed, stating,
“The possibility of an armed presence in any of our schools is a deterrent.”
Teachers and other school staff would be required to complete a 'School Sentinel Program,' which would include firearms training by law enforcement officers. As well, those who choose not to arm themselves would be able to do so without any prejudice.
Detractors have a different point of view, stating that many teachers are not comfortable about guns being inside the school. One who opposes the bill, Democratic Representative Troy Heinert, reasons that teachers should not be expected to add the duties of law enforcement to their responsibilities, telling reporters,
“Doesn’t this blur the line between a teacher and a law enforcement officer? Do we want to tell our children the only way to be safe is to carry a gun?”
Sandra Waltman, representing the South Dakota Education Association maintains that firearms should only be in the hands of those who are trained to used them, claims that guns should only be provided to trained professionals, but does not believe any training program would be able to prepare a teacher to properly respond to an incident such as the massacre in Newtown, CT.
Waltman told reporters,
“It’s one thing to have firearms training. It’s a completely different thing to be trained on how to handle those very difficult circumstances if they should arise. We believe that students should be taught by professional teachers, and we think they should be protected by professional law enforcement.”
The vote to pass the bill comes on the heels of a recent survey that revealed over nine out of ten teachers feel safe in their schools, and almost three quarters would refuse to arm themselves should the opportunity be made available.