LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Guns in schools continue to be the target of controversy in the Natural State.
The topic of arming teachers came up twice Monday, from an annual conference to the state capitol.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson kicked off the Arkansas Safe Schools Conference in North Little Rock, reiterating his priorities from the Arkansas School Safety Commission’s recommendations, which include an armed presence on every campus and more mental health resources for students.
The governor continued to make it clear the state will not require teachers and staff to carry a gun, rather focusing on hiring more school resource officers and improving training requirements for commissioned school security officers.
“There will be a decline in teachers entering the profession,” Hutchinson said at the conference. “It should never be mandatory that a teacher do that.”
Following the governor, a mother of two students who narrowly survived the Sandy Hook shooting spoke to the crowd, advocating for a school resource officer on each of the state’s 1,053 campuses.
“That SRO that’s at the high school mainly and he needs to run to the middle school, how fast is he really going to get there?,” said Carly Posey. “It’s probably going to be over by the time he gets there, realistically.”
Posey did not advocate for arming teachers and staff.
However, others did during the latest Joint Performance Review meeting at the capitol.
“Having an armed teacher or staff actually makes the job of the school resource officer safer,” Dr. John Lott, the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, told lawmakers.
Lott, a gun lobby researcher, argues one SRO per campus does not make sense.
“It’s like putting the person there with a neon sign that says, ‘Go and shoot me first,'” Lott said.
Instead, Lott would like to see a mixture of SROs and teachers concealed carrying, with signs posted across campuses that certain staff members are armed.
“They [shooters] don’t know who they would have to go after first,” he said.
Two other pro-gun advocates testified after Lott.
The other side, about two dozen members of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, signed up to speak but at the end of the three-hour meeting, were not given the chance. The committee told them they would have a chance to comment once it released its recommendations.
Austin Bailey, the Little Rock group lead for Moms Demand Action, hopes that does not mean lawmakers’ minds are made up.
“There’s a big chasm of difference though between a school resource officer who is a professional law enforcement officer and your Physics teacher,” Bailey said.
When asked if that means her group would support at least one SRO on every campus, Bailey replied, “In instances where professional law enforcement feels that an armed presence is warranted, then we can support that.”
The local and national chapters of Moms Demand Action spoke out against Lott’s appearance ahead of the meeting, calling him a “debunked gun lobby ‘researcher'” who used a female alias to endorse his work.
However, Lott stands strong behind his research.
A handful of Arkansas school districts already arm their teachers.
Dr. David Hopkins, the Clarksville superintendent, started arming select teachers and staff in 2013 in response to Sandy Hook.
The Bald Knob School District recently announced unidentified district personnel will concealed carry next school year, following 60 hours of training.