Politics & Government

Bills would allow S.C. teachers to be armed

By Kirk Brown

Independent Mail

A framed photo of Jacob Hall near a box of tissues in the lobby of Oakdale Baptist Church in Townville, during Jacob’s funeral service on Oct. 4.
A framed photo of Jacob Hall near a box of tissues in the lobby of Oakdale Baptist Church in Townville, during Jacob’s funeral service on Oct. 4. Independent Mail

Responding to the deadly shooting at Townville Elementary School, four legislators from Anderson County have proposed bills that would give school districts the option to arm teachers and other employees.

Republican state Sens. Kevin Bryant from Anderson and Mike Gambrell from Honea Path introduced Jacob Hall's Law last week. The legislation named for the 6-year-old who was fatally wounded at Townville Elementary on Sept. 28 would allow authorized school personnel to be armed. The bill also says school officials could require employees to receive weapons training before carrying firearms.

Bryant said he believes that an armed teacher may have prevented the carnage that happened on the playground at Townville Elementary when a teen gunman opened fire. In addition to Jacob's death, a teacher and two other students were hurt in the shooting.

Rep. Jonathon Hill, a Republican from Townville, is sponsoring a similar bill in the state House of Representatives. His measure would require people carrying firearms on school grounds to have a concealed weapons permit.

Rep. Joshua Putnam, a Republican from Piedmont, has introduced the Jacob Hall School Protection Act. His legislation calls for the creation of a public school concealed weapons permit. To obtain this permit, school employees would need to undergo a "live shooter" training program designed by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.

None of the three bills named for Jacob Hall would increase the number of law enforcement officers at South Carolina schools. In October, the first-grader's aunt told the Independent Mail that his family would push for passage of Jacob's Law, which would require that armed officers be placed in all of the state's schools.

Hall family to pursue 'Jacob's law' for officers in schools

No officer was on duty at Townville Elementary when the playground shooting happened. In the aftermath of the shooting, Pendleton-based Anderson School District 4 hired a school resource officer for Townville Elementary. District officials are hoping to get federal money to pay for the first-year's cost of the new officer.

Tom Dobbins, chairman of the District 4 school board, called Monday for legislators to set aside money to hire more armed officers at South Carolina schools.

Seeking to arm teachers "is a cheap way out" that "probably will end up with more fatalities," Dobbins warned.

"I hope that we don't do a knee-jerk reaction," he added.

Mary Geren agreed with Dobbins that arming teachers is a misguided approach. Geren is an English instructor at Tri-County Technical College whose daughter attends an elementary school in the city of Anderson.

"As a parent and an educator, I feel that is not the direction we want to go," said Geren, a Democrat who unsuccessfully challenged Rep. Anne Thayer in last month's election.

She said legislators need to provide funding for more school resource officers.

"The money could be found," Geren said.

Bryant said he intends to propose a bill that would give school districts the flexibility to use state money for hiring more armed officers.

Hill said he also would consider adding more money for school resource officers. He stressed that his bill involving the arming of teachers "is not the only angle that I will be looking at" to enhance school security.

Putnam said putting an armed officer in every South Carolina school would cost $83 million annually, a cost that he doubts legislators would be willing to approve.

"That is not going to happen," he said.

Putnam said his measure would require teachers and other school employees to keep their firearms in approved holsters. School district officials also could restrict the type of ammunition loaded in these weapons, including the use of rubber bullets, he said.

"I think my bill has the best chance of passing because so many safeguards are built in," he said.

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