South Dakota's House Education Committee has delayed decision on the bill granting school boards permission to allow faculty to be armed in schools.
The panel decided to continue discussion of House Bill 1087. The bill does not mandate schools to arm teachers-- or sentinels as described in the bill-- but it opens the door for faculty to carry weapons in classrooms.
Many turned out to testify for and against HB1087, so discussion was limited to approximately 25 minutes for each side.
The bill was primarily proposed by Republican Representative Scott Craig of Rapid City. He compared the bill to arming air marshals on airplanes. He and other proponents said the bill is a deterrent to help prevent school shootings.
"We believe the passing of house bill 1087 presents this very same appearance of a hard target, because the possibility of an armed presence in any of our schools is a deterrent," Craig testified to the House Education Committee.
Republican Representative Betty Olson, of Prairie City, is also a sponsor of HB1087. She said allowing teachers to be armed is more necessary in rural areas where law enforcement cannot be reached immediately.
"Up where we are, we're a little more vulnerable because it's a long ways to any law enforcement," Olson said.
Meanwhile, opponents jabbed back that arming teacher will do the opposite of the bill's intention. Wade Pogany, Associated School Boards of South Dakota, said placing guns in the hands of teachers and other faculty will increase risk.
New Underwood Superintendent Jeff Marlette testified on his own behalf. Marlette explained how he is a veteran who owns many weapons including hunting guns and an AR-15, the gun that has become infamous because it was connected to the Newtown, CT shooting. Marlette said HB 1087 is not the right response to the Newtown shooting. He said it is not measured, realistic and balanced.
Marlette also urged caution of placing weapons in the hands of people who have never drawn on human beings.
"In a room full of children, in a hall full of children, what happens when that hits a fourth grader? Who cleared that person that's being safe to do it? Who said that local school board said that I or someone else is capable of carrying that weapon? Where was the background check, where was the psychological evaluation," Marlette asked. "I don't think any law enforcement—that I know of—get to go out into the street until they have had a battery of tests, different background things and extensive training."
Diana Miller, a lobbyist with a group representing the largest school districts in the state, charged that House Bill 1087 is only a single solution to complex issue. She testified that the focus shouldn't be on guns, but school boards should be focuses on things like mental health, fights in schools and bullying.
"We cannot make our schools an armed fortress. That is not the solution," Miller said.
Miller told the House Education Committee that local school boards should take a comprehensive approach and address security for their local needs. And in place of HB1087, Miller suggested legislators to participate with their local school boards to create a collaborative approach to enhance school safety.
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