Indiana's public and charter schools would be required to have an employee carry a loaded gun during school hours under a proposal an Indiana House committee approved Tuesday.
Supporters said the proposal could help prevent tragedies such as the December elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., in which 20 students and six teachers died. Opponents say they're concerned that the proposal was rushed, that it's unnecessary and could force schools to hire people who are willing to carry guns.
Schools would be required to always have a so-called protection officer on duty during school hours. People who fill the school protection officer positions could be police officers or other non-educators but also could be teachers or principals. Regardless, the protection officers would have to meet training standards set by a new statewide school safety board, the sponsor of the provision, Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, said.
"I've been approached by several teachers that would love the ability to have their natural right to self-defense recognized and would gladly do this without being paid," Lucas said.
The House Education Committee voted 9-3 to approve the bill, advancing it to the Republican-dominated House for consideration. The Senate would also have to approve the measure.
A National Rifle Association-sponsored study released Tuesday recommended schools across the nation each train and arm at least one staff member. South Dakota's governor last month signed into law Friday a measure allowing the state's school districts to arm teachers and other personnel with guns, but no states require armed employees in schools, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Indiana law currently prohibits anyone other than police officers and authorized school employees from possessing firearms on school property. Lucas said he know of no Indiana districts that now allow teachers to have guns at school.
Lucas added the proposal to a Senate-approved bill that that aimed to start a state grant program to help school districts hire and train police officers to work with students and buy safety equipment.
Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, said he had concerns about requiring guns in schools and questions about how many trained employees would be needed in case the designated person was away.
"I don't think that the step is needed," Smith said. "This was hurriedly done, and it has not been thoroughly thrashed to the degree I think it ought to be."
Representatives of school, teachers and police organizations testified before the committee on Tuesday. But most offered little comment on Lucas' proposal, which was described for the first time during the meeting.
However, Todd Bess, executive director of the Indiana Association of School Principals, said schools have worked for years to establish safe environments and that he believed that can be done without having firearms in every building.
Frank Bush, executive director of the Indiana School Boards Association, said he worried that schools would need to hire additional employees where current staffers wouldn't want the additional responsibility.
"I don't see anything wrong with the notion of having someone in the school that can provide that kind of protection," Bush said.