LINCOLN, Neb. — A proposal to let Nebraska teachers and school staff carry guns in response to last month's fatal Omaha school shooting actually would make classrooms more dangerous, education and law enforcement groups argued Wednesday.
The Nebraska Association of School Boards, the Nebraska State Education Association, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's police chief and an association of private colleges in the state all told lawmakers at a hearing the proposal was a bad idea.
"It just seems to us that the safety of schools is going to be ensured by having fewer guns in school, not more," said Brian Hale, spokesman for the state school board association.
Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial introduced the bill (LB516) after the shooting at Millard South High School.
In early January on the first day students returned from vacation, 17-year-old Robert Butler Jr. fatally wounded Assistant Principal Vicki Kaspar and injured Principal Curtis Case with his police detective father's service weapon. Butler fled the school and then shot and killed himself.
Christensen said he proposed the law to prompt discussion about the best way to protect students and teachers. He still thinks his bill might be a good option for rural schools that may be miles away from police.
Andy Allen, president of the Nebraska Firearms Owners Association, was one of the few people to testify in support of Christensen's bill.
"This bill is about giving school districts options," Allen said.
The bill would allow certain school staff to carry guns only if they obtained state concealed weapons permits and the local school board approved. The bill would require support from two-thirds of the school's governing board.
Also, students and their parents or guardians would have to receive written notice of the school's concealed handgun policy.
The bill's opponents said allowing teachers to carry guns in school could actually make things worse. Bringing a gun into a school could result in a confrontation escalating into potentially fatal violence, and a violent student could end up taking a gun from an armed teacher.
Police and school security officials also raised concerns that the level of training required to obtain a state concealed weapons permit wouldn't prepare a teacher to respond to a dangerous situation.
"They're not trained law-enforcement officers," said Bill Kuehn, who oversees security for the Lincoln school district.
The National Conference of State Legislatures says 42 states and the District of Columbia have banned guns in schools but could not say whether any states allow them.
"Guns don't belong in the school," said Al Koontz, a spokesman for the Nebraska State Education Association.
The Legislature's Judiciary Committee did not act on the bill after Wednesday's hearing, but comments lawmakers made suggest it may have a difficult time advancing to the full Legislature.
"I'm concerned about the impact on the educational environment," Omaha Sen. Brenda Council said during the hearing
Gov. Dave Heineman has not taken a public position on the bill.
The school board of the district where the shooting happened declined to take a position on the bill that would allow teachers to carry guns. But Millard district spokeswoman Amy Friedman said the board supports a different bill (LB618) that would allow off-duty police officers to carry guns while they are working as security guards at school events. Currently, only on-duty officers are allowed to be armed at such events.
Several of the groups that opposed the bill allowing teachers to carry guns backed that bill allowing off-duty police officers to carry guns.