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Gun advocates call out legislative leaders over arming teachers

Posted June 5, 2018 1:19 p.m. EDT
Updated July 13, 2018 1:51 p.m. EDT

— Some Republican lawmakers and gun-rights advocates criticized GOP legislative leaders Tuesday for refusing to consider a bill allowing teachers to carry weapons in schools.

House Bill 1039 would allow teachers who volunteer to do so and who have concealed handgun permits to carry guns in school after receiving an extra 16 hours of active-shooter training.

House GOP leaders have said that the bill will not receive a committee hearing this session. Sponsor Rep. Larry Pittman, R-Cabarrus, said that's because House and Senate leaders have deemed the idea too controversial for an election year.

"That’s something we hear very often when they don’t want something to run – it’s too controversial," Pittman said at a news conference. "I always respond to that with the question, 'If you’re afraid of controversy, what are you doing in Raleigh?'

"We’re asking law-abiding citizens who know the value of self-defense to contact their legislators and insist that legislation of this sort be given a fair hearing," he continued, "so that our schoolchildren, teachers and other personnel do not have to be left defenseless in the face of an attack."

Polls have consistently shown that the majority of teachers statewide don't favor the idea of carrying weapons, and most educational groups also oppose the idea.

Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven, stressed that the program would be completely voluntary and that schools could choose to opt out.

"There’s absolutely nothing in this bill that mandates anything. It allows it," Speciale said. "Carrying [a gun] in the classroom, probably not a smart idea. But possibly putting it in a lockbox and having teachers who can access that box might be an option. How they work it out, how they do it should be up to the local school districts and not up to the state."

Paul Valone, head of gun-rights advocacy group Grass Roots North Carolina, said similar measures are already in place in 14 states.

"This is not a novel concept," Valone said.

Retired Catawba County teacher and Vietnam veteran Gene Fitzsimmons also spoke in favor of the bill.

"If I’m sitting there between the door, closed at the moment, and my students, and there’s somebody outside the door with a firearm that wants to kill them, I want to be armed," Fitzsimmons said. "I do not want to be like the football coach at Parkland (Fla.) who gave up his life just to shield his students momentarily before his students were gunned down."

Speciale said lawmakers have been focused on prevention but not on what would happen if preventive measures fail. He said the state doesn't have the money to put an armed school resource officer in every school, and many schools are more than several minutes away from the nearest law enforcement office.

"Once we get to the point where something is happening, somebody needs to be in that school to be able to stop it," Speciale said. "Somebody needs to be there to stop the carnage."

A similar measure filed in the Senate would have paid teachers a bonus to carry a weapon, but Pittman said he chose not to include that due to schools' financial constraints.

House K-12 Education Committee Chairman Craig Horn said he would be interested in learning more about that idea but has no interest in arming teachers across the board.

"Allowing folks to exercise their concealed carry rights inside a schoolhouse? I'm not in favor of that," said Horn, R-Union, who wasn't involved in the decision to block the bill.