Republican Gov. Mike Pence said Thursday he believed local school officials should make decisions about school security, separating himself from a legislative proposal that would require all public and charter schools have an employee armed with a loaded gun during school hours.
The Republican leader of the state Senate also said that schools shouldn't face such a mandate as state officials look for ways to improve school safety.
Indiana would become the first state in the country to require armed school employees if the bill — approved this week by a state House committee — becomes law. Supporters of the requirement say it would lessen the vulnerability of schools to violent attacks such as the December elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., in which 20 students and six teachers died.
The plan, however, is facing questions over whether people not trained as police officers, such as teachers or principals, should have the responsibility, as well as questions about the potential costs school districts would face to ensure a trained armed person is present during all school hours.
Pence said during a Statehouse news conference that protecting children was among his highest priorities, but he expressed no support for requiring armed school employees.
"I have a strong bias for local control," he said. "I think decisions that are nearest and dearest to our hearts ought to be made by parents and local school officials. I believe that's so in this case."
State law currently allows school districts to authorize people other than police officers to have guns on school property, although several officials have said they don't know of any district that have done it.
The provision's sponsor, Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, said he knew the proposal would face controversy but worried that most of Indiana's some 1,900 public schools are defenseless against possible attackers without properly trained and armed people present.
"I hate the idea of a mandate, but when the mechanism is in place and no one is taking advantage of what I feel is the best way to protect our children and educators, then sometimes things like this have to be initiated," Lucas said.
The firearms requirement was added to a Senate-based bill that aimed to start a state grant program to help school districts hire police officers who've undergone extra training and buy safety equipment.
The Senate budget proposal released Thursday included $10 million for that program.
Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said he believed the state could authorize arming school employees under training standards developed by the state Department of Homeland Security and other agencies.
"I think it needs to be optional," Long said. "We shouldn't be mandating unless we're providing for all the costs."
Long said it was important for the Legislature to move ahead with such steps, even as the Pence administration works with the Department of Education and law enforcement agencies to craft more detailed school safety proposals.
"Seeing these increasing attacks on the schools and the copycats that are out there, I think it's irresponsible for us not to try to do everything we can to better secure our schools," he said.
Lawmakers in more than 20 states are considering allowing armed school employees, but no states require armed employees in schools, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Rep. Sue Errington, D-Muncie, was among those who voted against the armed personnel provision when it was debated Tuesday in the House Education Committee. She said it was brought forward with no public notice and that she was glad others were seeing faults with it.
Errington said she was concerned about teachers or principals taking on the role of carrying a gun.
"That's just not what they do," she said. "Their job is to teach the kids."