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Guns in Ind. schools may be optional

8:49 AM, Apr 9, 2013   |    comments
Martinsville Police Department Sgt. John Richards serves as an extra safety presence outside Martinsville High School at the end of the day on Friday, April 5, 2013. (Photo: Matt Detrich, The Indianapolis Star)
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Lawmakers are likely to scale back controversial legislation Tuesday that would have made Indiana the first state in the nation to require every public school to have an armed staff member or security guard.

House Ways and Means Republican Chairman Tim Brown said there's growing consensus among Democrats and Republicans to make the move an option rather than a requirement. He said many lawmakers believe security decisions should be left to individual school districts.

Brown's committee took public testimony on the bill Monday morning, with several people and organizations raising concerns about the mandate. A committee vote on the legislation is expected Tuesday.

"There are questions about this type of a mandate to local school corporations when they know what issues are in their local district and their local buildings," Brown said.

The General Assembly, he said, is better suited to provide resources to help districts implement their individualized security plans. That, in fact, was the original intent of the legislation. The Senate-approved version of the bill largely aimed to start a state grant program to help school districts hire and train police officers to work with students and buy safety equipment. The Senate included $10 million in the budget for the program.

But last Tuesday, in a move that surprised both Gov. Mike Pence and Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, freshman GOP lawmaker Jim Lucas led a successful effort in the House Education Committee to amend the bill to require every public and charter school in the state to have an armed protection officer. Under his proposal, the protection officer could be a principal, teacher, staff member, security guard or police officer.

An armed employee, Lucas believes, could have prevented the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut in December that killed 20 students and six adults. Lucas' proposal mirrored a National Rifle Association-sponsored study released the same day recommending schools across the nation train and arm at least one staff member -- a response to fears about mass school shootings.

Some people who testified Monday on the bill questioned whether school staff members should be given the responsibility of carrying a weapon as a security measure.

"As a principal, I cannot imagine any of my staff having to concentrate on all of the activities to keep the students learning and moving forward and engaged and having an additional responsibility of firing a weapon," said Carol Craig, a retired Indianapolis Public Schools teacher and principal.

Chris Sikich, The Indianapolis Star

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