More than 450 teachers and other school employees from around Ohio have applied for 24 spots in a free firearms-training program being offered by the Buckeye Firearms Association.
“We’re pleasantly surprised, but it’s not shocking,” Ken Hanson, legal chairman for the association, said today of the response since the group began taking applications on its website 10 days ago. “The demand has been there for quite some time.”
The issue of arming school employees to protect students has been “on the radar” of school boards in Ohio for several years, he said, but the organization decided to launch its training program after the Dec. 14 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman killed 20 children and six adults.
“That was the breaking point,” he said. “We decided it’s time to quit talking about it and move forward.”
The first firearms class, a three-day program at the Tactical Defense Institute in West Union in Adams County, hasn’t been scheduled nor have the participants been chosen. Applications are being accepted at buckeyefirearms.org, the website of the group, which lobbies for the rights of gun owners.
The same week that the Buckeye Firearms Association announced its offer, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said schools should consider arming “someone” in their buildings as the first line of defense against a gunman. Beginning Jan. 14, his office will work with law enforcement and educators to train teachers and administrators to deal with “active shooters.”
The local police union expressed concerns this week about arming teachers or others who work in schools.
“It’s our position that there should be law-enforcement officers in schools,” said Jason Pappas, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Capital City Lodge No. 9. “To have civilians with guns in schools who could be mistaken for an active shooter only causes confusion for law enforcement.”
Columbus school-board member Mike Wiles also prefers trained police officers in schools. He’s willing to listen to all options for keeping students safe, but he said the notion of arming staff members would require support from “the board, the community, the staff, the parents, everybody.”
Hanson said his group likes the idea of police officers in schools but worries that those school officers are among the first lost to budget cuts when school districts encounter financial problems.
Arming teachers and other school employees is “budget neutral,” he said.
Although the Buckeye Firearms Association will fund the first class in its Armed Teacher Training Program, Hanson estimated the cost for tuition, ammunition and lodging for each participant at $1,000.
More than 70 percent of the school employees who have applied are teachers, about half of whom work in elementary schools, he said. Others are administrators and even custodians and food-service workers.
Beginners won’t be accepted. The program is looking for applicants with “significant prior firearms experience,” Hanson said.
John Benner, a former member of the Hamilton County regional SWAT team who owns the Tactical Defense Institute, said the class will be an intensive three-day program in dealing with active shooters.
By the end of the course, only participants who can pass the same firearms tests administered to law-enforcement officers should be armed in a school, Benner said.
“If they can’t qualify, they shouldn’t be carrying a gun,” he said. “There has to be some standard.”
Whether any of those who complete the course can carry guns in schools will be up to individual school boards and perhaps the state legislature.
The Ohio Revised Code allows school boards to give individuals written authorization to carry a gun on school grounds, Hanson said. The law, an exception to the ban on guns in schools, is found in ORC 2923.122.
But the legal counsel for the Ohio School Boards Association sees another legal hurdle to arming teachers or other school employees.
Hollie Reedy referred to ORC 109.78, which says that no public or private educational institution is permitted to employ a person “who goes armed while on duty” unless the person has completed a basic peace-officer training program or has
20 years of active duty as a peace officer.
“(Section) 2923.122 is not the end of the story,” Reedy said. “We have to look at other parts of the code.”
Jonathan Fulkerson, deputy chief counsel for the state attorney general, disagreed with her interpretation of ORC 109.78, which he said addresses the hiring of special police officers or security guards.
“I don’t see how 109.78 would apply to a teacher,” he said. “It covers a whole other area.”
By John Futty
The Columbus Dispatch
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