COLUMBUS, Ohio — A controversial new gun law in the Ohio Senate is causing law enforcement officers and educators to beg their lawmakers to think. House Bill 99 would make it significantly easier for adults in schools to carry guns, loosening the regulations by about 95%.
After a school shooting in 2016, a district in Southwest Ohio decided to allow some of their teachers to be armed. Madison Junior/Senior High School parents sued and the Ohio Supreme Court sided with them, saying state law says teachers must have extensive peace officer training (Peace Officer Basic Training Academy that is approved by the Ohio Peace Officer Training Commission, or OPOTC) or 20 years of experience as a peace officer.
The 2016 shooting occurred in Madison Township, the same district that HB 99 sponsor represents. His new bill would challenge that 2021 Gabbard v. Madison Local School Dist. Bd. of Edn ruling.
"The number of mass shootings in schools is absolutely alarming," Scott DiMauro, president of the Ohio Education Association (OEA), said.
Ohioans have experienced 38 school shootings since 2013, according to advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety.
In comes HB 99. It exempts a “person authorized to go armed within a school safety zone” from the current requirement that a public or private educational institution employee who goes armed while on duty must satisfactorily complete an approved basic peace officer training program.
The Republican-proposed legislation has its fans, like Buckeye Firearm Association's Rob Sexton.
"The one thing we know is this: the faster the active killer is confronted, the more lives are saved," Sexton said. "It's our hope that the Legislature would pass House Bill 99 and restore some sanity to school safety."
Under the bill, teachers, janitors, cafeteria staff and basically anyone who isn't a student could carry a gun with a certain amount of training.
"I think, really, really disturbing," DiMauro added. "It's disturbingly little."
Someone would only be required to complete 20 hours of training, plus an additional eight to get a conceal carry permit.
"It's a whole, just a ridiculous array of police training when instead what we really need is a fast deterrent that can step in and save lives in the event of a tragedy," Sexton said.
It also has restrictions. An individual may not spend more than two hours training with the firearm. News 5 reached out to bill sponsor Rep. Thomas Hall (R-Madison Twp.) on why, but he was unavailable to speak Friday afternoon.
For context, police get 60 hours of firearm training, with 46 of those hours being at a gun range. School resource officers get the same as police, but an additional 40 hours of training both inside and at the range. Previously, armed teachers would have to become peace officers with more than 700 hours on average of educational courses and firearm training.
"How can you possibly expect somebody who has only 20 hours of training, including only two hours of hands-on training with a weapon, to be able to perform in a way that protects everybody's safety in their crisis?" DiMauro asked. "When Mike DeWine was attorney general of the State of Ohio, this same body set a standard of approximately 150 hours for training. That seems to be much more reasonable given the high stakes that are involved when you're talking about the lives of students and staff in our schools."
With the reduced amount of training, the bill has garnered opponents such as DiMauro and the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) of Ohio's Michael Weinman.
"We don't think that the training hours are adequate for what they're going to be doing in their schools," Weinman said. "[It's] carrying a firearm and discharge a firearm in possibly a crowded room or a cafeteria, being able to retain that weapon if the students could want to take away that weapon from them."
The pair say the bill is very broad and since it doesn't even list a requirement of how the gun should be stored safely during school, they are worried about accidental discharges, students taking a hold of the gun and fear caused to kids.
"These teachers, they have a different mindset, right?" the retired Columbus police officer said. "We're there to take care of threats and make sure the schools are safe, which isn't necessarily what they're trained for."
They definitely aren't trained for that, according to DiMauro.
"The last thing we need is to be asking educators to do things that are really outside the core of their responsibility, which is ensuring students' academic success and making sure that we're providing those foundational supports in terms of social-emotional needs so that they can be successful academically," the educator said. "There are so many pressures facing educators in our schools today."
According to a study done by OEA and their national affiliate, 90% of educators across the country were feeling burnt out, and 55% of educators were considering leaving the profession earlier than planned, either through retirement or by choosing another job, DiMauro added.
"This isn't just exclusive to teachers, and so they're not going to have even those basic training that a teacher gets in how to control classroom discipline," Weinman said. "It's very concerning for us that they're going to have these armed individuals in these schools."
DiMauro and Weinman asked why not just continue using school resource officers?
Having numerous officers in schools just isn't feasible at this point, Sexton said.
"The solution that House Bill 99 offers allows you to supplement what you're able to spend on a resource officer with some additional personnel who could be there to save lives," Sexton said. "High school campuses are pretty large.
"So, you put a Band-Aid on it, you say, 'well, we've got a resource officer.' Well, one's better than none — but really, can you cover a full high school campus or a middle school campus with one officer? The answer is probably not adequately."
Weinman took offense to that, citing that being a resource officer is a huge responsibility that police train more than 100 hours for.
"It sounds like they're trying to control costs," Weinman said.
Both Weinman and DiMauro believe money should not be a driving force here.
"What price do you want to put on child safety — with a janitor running around with a firearm?" the officer said. "There's always some sort of partnership you can do with the sheriff's office or local police agencies. You know where you can share that cost and work things out. There's been bills that you can have a levy specifically for the schools to have school resource officers."
DiMauro said that schools should be discussing more the roles of school resource officers to determine how to best utilize them.
"I think every community needs to have a conversation to really determine what is the role of a school resource officer, as well," DiMauro said. "We want to make sure that schools are safe places to learn, and we want to make sure that we're attending to the issues of equity that anybody who's in that role is all about building relationships in order to be proactively preventing issues of violence, as opposed to simply be in a position to react to that."
There is also validity that students of color may feel intimidated and unsafe by the presence of police in the building, DiMauro said.
"Questions about ensuring racial equity, ensuring that schools aren't in the business of essentially criminalizing misbehavior, that we aren't turning schools into prisons, that we aren't doing things to really take away from accessibility of learning opportunities for all students, regardless of their race, regardless of their background, are really important," he added. "Those are all decisions that every local school district Board of Education, faculty, parents, community members need to really talk about together to decide what is most needed for their community.
"The question about whether or not to arm teachers, whether or not to have armed school resource officers or police officers on school campuses, how to deal with all those things — are important decisions that have to be made locally."
There is also a list of concerning aspects of the bill for DiMauro and Weinman. None of the below are mentioned in the bill:
- Is there a requirement of how the gun is stored? Are there safety measures so it is locked in a safe?
- Since the Board of Ed. or the governing body of the school will be paying the fees for the guns, does that mean the guns stay at school overnight? Or do they go home with the Peace Officer?
- How will each school district notify the public if an authorized person carrying a gun in the facility? Is there a required way?
- Why is there a cap of two hours of physical firearm training in the 20 hours of Peace Officer training?
- In the fiscal analysis, it states “Presumably, the Ohio Peace Officer Training Commission, an affiliate of the Attorney General, will develop the rules, curricula, minimum attendance, and other requirements necessary for approval of a training program. The bill is likely to increase costs for the Commission to certify training programs.” What does the bill mean by presumably?
News 5 reached out to the bill sponsor will these questions, but he was busy as it was in the early afternoon on a Friday.
Sexton said that criminals who shoot up schools may think twice if they are aware of multiple adults in the building that also carry guns.
"I think ultimately the best deterrent against crime is the idea in the back of a criminal mind that there could be someone armed in a situation," he said.
The gun lobbyist also brought up how, depending on where someone lives, law enforcement may be late to a shooting.
"Response times by police in extreme rural areas is a whole lot longer than it is in the suburbs and it's a lot longer in the inner cities where there's lots of bad stuff going on at once," he said. "They may not get your school in time."
In its early hearings, around 15 supported the bill, while more than 215 testified against it. DiMauro said that even though dozens of educators have spoken out against it, the legislators have been in "minimal" contact with him.
"The sponsor held one formal interested party meeting with proponents and opponents on the bill early on in the process," he said. "There has not been a lot of dialog and engagement really listening to concerns from the education or law enforcement community on this bill."
The bill passed the House and is now being heard in the Senate.
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