I recall the moment I heard about the shooting at Townville Elementary School. It was hard to process the news, because things like that don’t happen in Townville. But it did happen in Townville, and it resulted in the death of a precious child along with the injury of his friends and a teacher.
The minutes, hours and days following our tragedy also saw some of the finest examples of humanity I ever have witnessed. Firefighter Jamie Brock thought of nothing other than stopping the threat when he subdued the shooter. The teachers and staff acted decisively, preventing even more devastation. The Townville Rescue Squad put all their training and passion into saving lives. Law enforcement from at least four agencies moved in quickly to secure and calm the scene, allowing parents to reunite with their children. Countless others, many of whom we may never know, provided aid and comfort in that moment of crisis and long after to those so deeply affected. I am both proud and humbled to live in a place with such neighbors.
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An obvious response to this kind of tragedy is to mandate that every school in South Carolina employ an armed school resource officer. Many schools have school resource officers, but they cost a lot of money. The last projection I saw was $78 million annually just for compensation of officers in the more than 1,300 schools in South Carolina. Other costs such as uniforms, weapons and vehicles would add another $65 million — much of it also recurring. A senator actually filed such a bill in 2013 following the school shooting in Connecticut. It did not pass, because there was not enough money. I see little chance of a different outcome in 2017.
While I was still in the Senate, I introduced Jacob Hall’s Law to allow school employees authorized by school officials to carry a weapon on school grounds. This would give local districts, and therefore the parents and taxpayers to whom they are accountable, the flexibility to arrive at solutions that best fit their communities.
The bill does not mandate arming teachers. It does not say that anyone and everyone with a concealed-weapons permit may enter a school with a gun. It does not dictate any specific solution at all. It gives the local district another tool to confront the problem. How districts respond is up to them, and that is exactly my goal.
We have local districts and locally elected boards to make decisions that are best for their communities. Communities want the solutions that fit them best. I want that too, and that is what Jacob Hall’s Law allows: local people making local decisions that work best for them.
I also filed a bill, as one of my final acts as a state senator, to allow funds available through the Education Improvement Act to be used for school protection and safety, including school resource officers. S.273 will allow local districts to tap the already flexible EIA stream in combination with their decisions on how to best enhance their security. My goal, again, is to free districts, with their parents and taxpayers, to craft the best solutions for their specific needs. One size does not fit all in anything else that I have seen in my time in Columbia, and I want to avoid the idea that it does here.
No law will ever stop all the evil in our world. My intention with these bills is to respond in a realistic way to this tragedy and empower local communities to make the changes best suited to their needs. I am honored and humbled to be in a position to try to make even this minor contribution.
Lt. Gov. Bryant served in the Senate from 2005 through last month; contact him at kevinbryant@ scstatehouse.gov.