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After Parkland shooting, Alabama lawmaker wants to arm teachers in the classroom

Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth

An Alabama lawmaker wants to arm teachers in classrooms across the state.

Guntersville Republican Rep. Will Ainsworth plans to drop a bill that would allow teachers to carry concealed guns at schools if they are trained to a state standard.

The introduction of the bill would come after a mass shooting at a school in Florida Wednesday claimed the lives of 17 students and teachers. Sixteen others were injured.

The bill would let teachers step in if a gunman comes on the school’s campus, Ainsworth said.

“They’re essentially sitting ducks in schools, right now,” Ainsworth said. “If you look at that situation in Florida, there was a coach, a security guard, who put his life on the line. He’s a hero, but all he could do was use his body as a shield.”

Ainsworth said armed teachers could mitigate the loss of life and even end an active shooter scenario in some cases.

“You have to ask yourself if that guy would have had a firearm would he have been able to potentially deter or kill the gunman,” Ainsworth said. “I think the answer is he could have.”

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Conservative lawmakers in Montgomery have been attempting to expand firearm access and loosen restrictions in recent years. A bill pushed last year and proposed again this year would end the requirement for concealed carry permits. Another bill that passed the House Thursday would extend stand-your-ground self-defense laws to churches.

Ainsworth said teachers and parents in his area asked him to carry the bill.

“I had a lot of educators reach out,” Ainsworth said. “What we’re hearing from teachers and parents is ‘enough is enough.’ We’ve had 18 school shootings this year. We need to make sure that if someone comes into our schools, we’re able to actually fight back, and right now, I don’t think there is an opportunity.”

He hasn’t filed the bill yet, but Ainsworth said it would require teachers to receive firearm training from the Alabama Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission, a similar training to that which law enforcement officers receive. The North Alabama lawmaker compared the idea to allowing undercover air marshals to protect planes with firearms.

Ainsworth, who is running for lieutenant governor, said the appropriate training and a gun would give teachers and administrators the option to step in if a shooter is already on campus because it can often take law enforcement minutes to arrive.

“Literally, seconds matter when a gunman is in a school,” Ainsworth said.

Not all Republicans are behind the bill, though. Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said arming teachers could introduce new dangers to the school environment and confuse law enforcement arriving on the scene.

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“This idea has floated around before, every time we have a shooting,” Ward said. “I think if you talk to law enforcement, they’ll tell you that when they’re responding to a crisis situation that wouldn’t be the best thing because you now have not just one armed shooter, you have multiple people with guns shooting at each other.”

Ward said it can get confusing “in the fog of war” who the bad guys are and who the good guys are.

“We have great educators, they want to be in education, they want to help the kids, but I dare say they never dreamed of a scenario when they would be signing up to carry pistols and be prepared to shoot people,” Ward said.

The ability to carry a firearm would be voluntary, Ainsworth said.

Other states have recently considered similar measures. The Pennsylvania Senate passed a similar bill last year, though it didn’t make it to the governor’s desk. That bill is back up in their House of Delegates this year.

Several other states, including Ohio and Colorado, allow teachers to pack heat. In Ohio, the law states that schools can arm employees if the teacher is “required to, in essence, become a security guard.” Other states have been moving in the opposite direction, placing heavier restrictions on guns carried on school campuses.

“Teachers are people, and people can be unstable and prone to erratic and dangerous behavior,” said Adam Lankford, an associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Alabama who studies mass shootings, social deviance, terrorism and gun violence.

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Lankford pointed to the example of Amy Bishop, a University of Alabama in Huntsville professor who shot six colleagues at a biology department staff meeting in 2010, killing three of them. Bishop had been denied tenure, and her contract was set to expire months later.

“If more security is genuinely needed for some schools, I would prefer that they hire armed police officers who at least would be closely vetted and professionally trained to handle weapons,” Lankford said.

Lankford’s most-cited study, which compared 171 different countries from 1966-2012, showed the availability of guns directly correlates with the prevalence of mass shootings regardless of the country’s relative peace and mental health, according to national indicators.

Alabama is no stranger to gun violence at schools. A shooting in Mobile earlier this year involved a 16-year-old student, Jonah Neal, who pointed a gun at students and administrators. He ran outside and fired bullets into the air. No one was injured.

Two students were arrested Thursday in Alabama — one a high school student at Talladega City Schools and another a student at Fairhope Middle School — when administrators found guns on their person.

The Talladega student, Calvareous Wallace, 18, had a gun in his backpack and was demonstrating “suspicious behavior” when he was searched. The Fairhope student had an unloaded .380 in his jacket pocket, police said. No shots were fired, and no one was injured in the two incidents Thursday.

Chip Brownlee is a former political reporter, online content manager and webmaster at the Alabama Political Reporter. He is now a reporter at The Trace, a non-profit newsroom covering guns in America.

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