Ohio lawmakers debate training for armed school employees
Ohio Republican lawmakers are fast-tracking legislation to permit school districts to arm employees after a court ruling restricted the practice.
By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio school district employees could once again be allowed to carry guns, under legislation being fast-tracked by Republican lawmakers to counter the impact of a court ruling that restricted the practice.
The measure aims to undo the effect of an Ohio Supreme Court ruling last year, which held that under current law, armed school workers would need hundreds of hours of training.
Democrats said the legislation sends the wrong message a week after the massacre of 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. Republicans say the measure could prevent such shootings.
Under the latest version of the bill, school employees who carry guns would need up to 24 hours of initial training, then up to eight hours of requalification training annually. The bill didn't specify a total minimum training requirement, leading to criticism from Democrats that the legislation is being pushed too quickly without all the details.
Training must include how to stop an active shooter, how to de-escalate a violent situation, trauma and first-aid care, at least four hours in “scenario-based or simulated training exercises,” and completing “tactical live firearms training,” according to the bill.
The bill is opposed by major law enforcement groups and gun control advocates, and supported by a handful of police departments and school districts. More than two dozen states allow the arming of school employees under some circumstances.
The GOP-controlled Senate approved the measure Wednesday along mostly partisan lines, a day after its passage in committee.
Debate was lengthy and charged.
Sen. Theresa Fedor, a Toledo Democrat, called the training requirements inadequate and warned that lawmakers supporting the bill “will have blood on your hands” if the legislation leads to an accidental shooting incident in a school. Sen. Niraj Antani, a Dayton-area Republican, accused Democrats of “crying crocodile tears” by continually exaggerating the negative consequences of bills expanding access to guns.
Republican Gov. Mike DeWine supports the legislation, as long as it requires adequate and annual training for armed employees. DeWine underscored his support last week as he announced plans to spend “a significant amount of money” to help schools create physical barriers against attacks without going into details.
The Supreme Court ruling came after Madison local schools in southwestern Ohio voted to allow teachers and staff who received 24 hours of one-time concealed weapons training to carry firearms following a 2016 school shooting. After the district adopted the armed program in 2018, a group of parents successfully sued the district to prevent teachers from being armed without extensive training, equivalent to what a police officer undergoes.
One of those parents, Erin Gabbard, testified in opposition to the bill Tuesday, calling it radical and reckless.
“This does not protect our children, it endangers them,” Gabbard said. “Allowing teachers to go armed with our children at school with, at most, 24 hours of training is woefully inadequate. It makes our children less safe.”
Bill opponents, including educators and gun control advocates, far outnumbered supporters at Tuesday's hearing. One supporter, Buckeye Firearms Association lobbyist Rob Sexton, said arming teachers would give children a fighting chance in the event “the worst happens in our schools.”
He also warned against making training so rigorous that it “becomes a disincentive that people don't actually wind up enrolling in the program. We actually want school districts and people to be willing to take advantage of this option to protect our kids.”
Since the bill requires that armed employees have a concealed weapons permit, that adds eight hours to the training requirement, Sexton said.
The bill is opposed by major law enforcement groups and gun control advocates, and supported by a handful of police departments and school districts.
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