Bill to provide handgun training for teachers advances in House committee

By Emily Ketterer
TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS — Emily Cole sat in fear in her classroom last May with Rep. Chuck Goodrich’s daughter, holding hands with her and crying because their high school was on lockdown as an active shooter swept through Noblesville West Middle School nearby.

“We could hear the SWAT teams banging on the doors,” Cole said. “People throwing desks and chairs in front of classrooms to feel safe.”

Emily Cole, a Noblesville High School senior, asked lawmakers to not arm teachers and put funding toward other school safety resources. Photo by Emily Ketterer, TheStatehouseFile.com

Cole, a Noblesville High School senior, testified at the House Education Committee Monday against House Bill 1253, which would implement an optional 40-hour training program for any school employee to learn to use handguns in schools, if a school corporation allows the use.

She pleaded that lawmakers not allow funding to arm teachers, specifically looking at Goodrich, a Noblesville Republican and her representative, who did end up voting in favor of the bill along with the majority of the committee.

She told the committee that giving more people guns increases the likelihood of a gun-related death. She added the state safe schools fund should be used for more resource officers and active shooter training.

A law adopted in 2013 already gives schools the option to arm their teachers, but most don’t. Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, author of HB 1253, said he wants to create an option for training since there was nothing in the original law providing for that.

The funding would be pulled from the $1.5 million Secure Schools Fund, and training costs around $1,500 per person, Lucas said. Other lawmakers are also passing legislation this session that would take more from that single fund, and Lucas said this is an efficient use of the money.

“Currently, a school resource officer costs approximately $70,000,” Lucas said. “For that price, we could train 45 teachers or staff.”

The program within the legislation was modeled after the 40-hour training police officers go through to qualify to use a gun in emergency situations, Lucas said. The institute includes training to shoot in high stress environments, firearm cleaning and psychological counseling, among others within the 40-hour time slot.

Cole said her parents, who are both teachers, don’t need to be armed and they don’t have time to go through a training program.

Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, authored House Bill 1253, to give teachers to option to go through handgun training, if their schools allow them to carry firearms. Photo by Emily Ketterer, TheStatehouseFile.com

“Teachers just want to teach,” Cole said. “Rep. Lucas, my parents don’t have time to go through 40 hours of training, they have five jobs between them.”

The committee heard nearly three hours of testimony, and though the bill focused on training, much of the discussion turned into a gun debate on whether teachers should be armed.

Jeff Armstrong, a father of a seventh grader who attends Noblesville West Middle School, said he doesn’t see a benefit to giving teachers guns.

“Why instead are we giving funds to turn teachers into first responders when it’s already hard to be a teacher?” Armstrong said. “Let teachers teach and let actual professionals protect our kids.”

He said the day the active shooter entered his son’s school changed his life. He said that even a year later, the community is still fearful.

“I talked to fathers who almost a year later, still have middle schoolers sleeping in their bed,” Armstrong said.

Aron Bright, a teacher at Avon High School and a firearms instructor, said training and arming school employees is common sense. He has been in a lockdown before, he said, and he was angry he did not have the tools and ability to match someone who is armed and dangerous.

“I would prefer to just teach history on a day-to-day basis and not have to fight and defend the lives of my classroom,” Bright said.

Bright added that the bill may give school corporations more incentive to allow handguns. He said his superintendent didn’t think arming teachers was a radical idea, but she just didn’t know how they could be trained properly.

New Castle resident DeeDee Bailey said that as a trained gun owner she likes guns, but also realizes they are lethal. She said people need to be properly trained to use one and said HB 1253 would not do that.

Forty hours of training is not enough for a novice shooter, she said, adding, “It is a fantasy we can train and turn a novice shooter into a commando.”

In clarifying that the legislation and allowing armed teachers in the classroom are optional, Lucas said, “We’re not asking them to be SWAT teams.”

The bill passed the committee 8-2.

Emily Ketterer is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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