School districts across the nation are reviewing their security procedures following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, but one Tennessee lawmaker is taking it one step further.
"It seems that these crazy shooters attack schools that don't have a resource, a deputy, there," said State Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains.
Niceley is proposing that every single school in the state have at least one resource officer - or someone trained as such - and that person be armed, just in case tragedy strikes.
"Train at least one staff member. It could be a teacher. It could be a maintenance guy. It could be a coach, principal, vice principal, whatever - but at least have somebody there, at least one that had the proper training, psychological evaluations, background checks just like a resource officer," Niceley said.
Earlier this week, Williamson County Schools decided to add resource officers in each of its elementary schools, although county leaders still must approve that idea.
"Today's world is a different world, with the acts that have taken place across the country in the last few years. Children are our most precious product, and the safety of those children is the No. 1 concern," Williamson County Sheriff Jeff Long said at Monday's school district meeting.
That idea got a lot of support from law enforcement and school leaders Wednesday in Rutherford County.
WTN-FM radio host Ralph Bristol hosted a round-table discussion on the topic of arming teachers who are willing. Many unanswered questions remain, such as allowing armed volunteer civilians to carry firearms in schools.
"I just totally disagree with that, because the liability for the municipalities - whether it be city or county - would be way too big of a liability," said Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold.
"No, I'm not crazy about that one. No, not at all. I would like people to be employees, because they have a responsibility to us and we have more control over the access and that sort of thing," said Don Odom, director of Rutherford County Schools.
In theory, the teachers who are willing and qualified to be armed would back up the schools' resource officers.
For school systems that can't afford SROs, this is viewed as a less-expensive option to providing an armed defense.
State Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, said he is willing to introduce a teacher-carry bill, but he wants individual jurisdictions to set the standards for their own communities.
"I think, when we're talking about a bill in the General Assembly, it's absolutely essential we make it permissive. And the reason is the security needs in Memphis are not the same as Rutherford County and not the same as Bristol," Carr said.
Carr said he favors setting statewide minimum standards, though, of how the gun-carrying school employees would have their backgrounds checked and trained.
Gov. Bill Haslam said the shooting in Newtown will likely shade the ongoing debate at the Tennessee Capitol over the push to expand the places where gun owners could legally bring their firearms.
"You have this basic conflict between property rights - does that property owner get to say what happens on his or her property - and how that impacts second amendment rights. I don't think the basic discussion has changed," Haslam said.
Legislation was already being drafted that would have allowed gun owners to store their firearms in their cars at workplace parking lots, and that would have included college campuses.
Haslam was not in favor of including schools in that proposal, and the governor did not seem to be receptive to the idea of arming Tennessee teachers.
"I know a whole lot of teachers that wouldn't want to be armed, and so how does that work? I have a daughter that's a second-grade teacher, and just knowing her, that's the last thing she would want to do," Haslam said.
The governor said there needs to be a really complete conversation about this and other gun issues in the state, along with how to prevent mass shootings everywhere.
A school safety summit is set for next month to tackle some of the issues revolving around school violence.
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