By MALLORY MOENCH, Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Any trained school employee or citizen volunteer could join an armed security force in Alabama schools under a bill lawmakers are considering — one of several such measures being proposed in U.S. states after the Florida high school massacre.
Rep. Allen Farley, a Republican and former law enforcement officer, filed the bill on Thursday, and it has been referred to a committee for consideration. It replicates a local law in north Alabama’s Franklin County that was twice vetoed by the governor before becoming law in 2013. Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow, a Republican who sponsored the local law, said it was needed because rural schools couldn’t afford School Resource Officers (SROs) and the emergency response time could be 30 minutes.
“We wanted to give students out there in remote rural schools with no resource officer a fighting chance,” Morrow said at a news conference Tuesday.
It’s not clear whether the law is actually being implemented in that county, however. Morrow said he doesn’t know how many school employees or citizen volunteers are armed and the school district wouldn’t confirm numbers for security reasons.
Under the law, school principals can request a volunteer armed security force. They submit names of individuals who are vetted and trained by the sheriff’s department to become reserve deputy sheriffs.
Heath Grimes, superintendent of Russellville City Schools in Franklin County, said not all principals are familiar with the law and none in the city schools he oversees had requested a security force because they have school resource officers. He originally opposed the local law but now supports an individual school’s decision to arm a security force.
“I do believe it is effective in our community, especially in remote areas that do not have access to SROs,” Grimes said. “It may not be that it is the best for every school district in the state.”
Grimes declined to comment on the statewide bill because he said it wouldn’t change the county’s existing law.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly called for arming teachers after 17 people were fatally shot on Feb. 14 at a high school in Parkland, Florida. In the South, similar measures have been proposed in Florida and Mississippi.
On Feb. 20, Alabama Rep. Will Ainsworth, a Republican, proposed legislation that would allow trained teachers to carry guns in school.
Farley’s more recent bill doesn’t specifically mention teachers, but they could be armed if they volunteer.
Alabama top leadership has expressed concern about putting more guns in schools.
Republican Gov. Kay Ivey, a former school teacher, said there could be more effective ways to address school shooting threats. “In my personal opinion, teachers have got their hands full being teachers. … I think there’s some other way to provide protection,” Ivey said last week.
House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, a Republican and former law enforcement officer, also voiced caution.
“Any bills we have that deal with arming an individual on a school campus, liability is a huge question,” McCutcheon said. Liability could be mitigated with training, he said, but in spite of training, there is always room for error.
The nation’s two largest teachers’ organizations, The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, have also opposed arming teachers in school.