Guns at School? If There’s a Will, There Are Ways

CLARKSVILLE, Ark. — The slim, black 9-millimeter handguns that the school superintendent David Hopkins selected for his teachers here weigh about a pound and slip easily into a pocket. Sixteen people, including the janitor and a kindergarten teacher, wear them to school every day.

Although state law prohibits guns on campus, Mr. Hopkins found a way around it.

Like rural educators who are quietly doing the same thing in a handful of other states, Mr. Hopkins has formulated a security plan that relies on a patchwork of concealed-weapons laws, special law enforcement regulations and local school board policies to arm teachers.

Without money to hire security guards for the five schools he oversees, giving teachers nearly 60 hours of training and their own guns seemed like the only reasonable, economical way to protect the 2,500 public school students in this small town in the Ozark foothills.

“Realistically, when you look at a person coming to your door right there with a firearm, you’ve got to have a plan,” Mr. Hopkins said. “If you have a better one, tell me.”

After the Newtown, Conn., rampage last December, 33 states considered new legislation aimed at arming teachers and administrators, according to an analysis by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Only 5 enacted laws that expanded the ability for public educators to arm themselves at school.

Still, some teachers and administrators around the country have carried guns for years under state or local laws that impose few restrictions on where concealed weapons can be carried.

“It’s a fairly common practice among the schools that do not have sworn officers,” said Asa Hutchinson, a former congressman and a candidate for governor in Arkansas. He recently led the National Rifle Association’s school safety initiative, which produced a 225-page report that advocated armed security officers or, in some cases, armed teachers in every public school.

Mr. Hutchinson said he recently spoke with a superintendent in Arkansas who had been carrying a firearm for 10 years. The district was among 13 in the state, including Clarksville, that have special permission to use rules designed for private security firms to arm their staff members.

Just before the school year began, the state suspended the practice temporarily after Attorney General Dustin McDaniel issued an opinion that school districts could not act as private security companies. This month, however, a state board voted to allow the districts to continue using the law until the legislature reconsiders the issue in two years.

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