BY: JAKE ZUCKERMAN – Ohio Capital Journal
The Ohio Senate advanced fast-tracked legislation Tuesday that would allow local boards of education to permit teachers to carry guns in classrooms.
Passage would eviscerate current law in Ohio that allows teachers to arm themselves only after completing more than 700 hours of police training and receiving approval from their local school board.
Under House Bill 99 — which was largely rewritten and unveiled at the hearing — a school board could allow teachers to arm themselves. The latest version doesn’t specify any minimum amount of training hours, although it states that four hours must be “scenario-based or simulated training exercises.” Instead, it says teachers would need to undergo “initial instruction and training” to carry a weapon that “shall not exceed” 24 hours. From there, the teacher would need annual recertification training which “shall not exceed” eight hours.
A local board of education would need to opt in to allow its teachers to arm themselves. That board could choose to mandate additional training, but it wouldn’t be required. The training required in the legislation includes the “scenario-based” training, “tactical live firearms training,” and “realistic urban training.”
Earlier versions of the bill established a minimum of 20 hours of training, plus concealed carry training (another eight hours). It also called for more specific, somewhat warrior-like training requirements.
“On signal, take a flanking step while drawing and fire three rounds into the preferred area. Upon completion, take appropriate post-shooting actions,” reads a training requirement of the House-passed version of the bill. “The distance from the target shall be thirty feet, the time allowed shall be eight seconds, and the number of rounds allowed shall be three.”
The Senate committee vote comes on the heels of the May 24 shooting in Uvalde, Texas, in which a teenager purchased two assault style rifles that he used to kill 19 young children and two teachers. Seventeen others were wounded.
At Tuesday’s hearing, two men spoke in support of the bill. The rest of the four hours were occupied by dozens of teachers, teachers’ union officials, anti-gun violence activists, and a Fraternal Order of Police lobbyist, all testifying in opposition.
The teachers who testified argued it’s unrealistic to think an educator would react prudently and fire accurately at a shooter in a chaotic and precarious situation after mere hours of training. They’d need to execute keen marksmanship in a fraught situation to avoid hitting their own students. Several noted the bill makes no consideration as to how teachers must store the weapon, which could yield a flood of gun violence of its own.
At times, Sen. Frank Hoagland, a Republican who chairs the committee that reviewed the bill, struggled to rein in the testy crowd. After hearing the hours of testimony in opposition to the bill, Republican Senators passed it regardless. The vote was a flex of political power, and drew shouts of “Shame! Shame!” from the crowd.
Hoagland, and Sen. Terry Johnson, the number two Republican on the committee, both declined interview requests after the hearing. The legislation will likely go to the Senate floor for a vote Wednesday. The House could, in theory, accept the Senate’s changes on the same day and send the bill to Gov. Mike DeWine.
Republicans in the Ohio House passed HB 99 earlier this year on a 59-33 vote (Republican Rep. Gayle Manning joined Democrats in opposition). Tuesday’s vote came in lieu of the typical process of holding several hearings on a bill before a roll call. Several speakers said they were unable to procure a copy of the latest version of the bill before Tuesday’s hearing.
As of 2019, 18 states allow anyone with permission from school authority to carry a weapon, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The idea, which gained popularity after a spate of school shootings in the U.S., is broadly unpopular with educators. In a 2019 national survey of 2,926 teachers, more than 95% indicated they don’t believe teachers should carry a gun in the classroom. Even among the 16% of respondents who were gun owners, only 11.5% of them said being armed while teaching should be a part of teacher’s duties. Gallup polling from 2018 found 73% of teachers oppose the idea.
More Ohioans died from guns last year than any year on record from the Ohio Department of Health’s data warehouse. Earlier this year, analysis in the New England Journal of Medicine found that firearms have overtaken vehicle crashes as the leading cause of death for American children, teens and young adults.
In the gun friendly and Republican-dominated legislature, the policy response has included eliminating training and background check requirements to carry a concealed weapon; and eliminating a duty to retreat before responding to a perceived attack with deadly force.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Rob Sexton, a lobbyist with the Buckeye Firearms Association, argued in support of the bill. He said it gives students a “fighting chance” in the face of a shooter. Rep. Thomas Hall, R-Madison Twp., who sponsored the bill, told Senators at a previous hearing the legislation is about clearing up Ohio law.
“I’m not here to argue whether or not guns should be in schools,” he said. “I’m here to help clarify a gray area in law that will give schools the tools to protect their students if they wish to utilize them.”
JAKE ZUCKERMAN is a statehouse reporter. He spent three years chronicling the West Virginia Legislature for The Charleston Gazette-Mail after covering cops and courts for The Northern Virginia Daily.
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