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How to protect students becomes issue in lieutenant governor’s race

Highschool students carrying out written task

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Public Service Commission President Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh proposed her own plan to arm school personnel that differs from a plan to arm teachers being promoted by her opponent in the lieutenant governor’s race, State Representative Will Ainsworth, R-Guntersville.

“I find it shameful when people, on both sides of the aisle, play politics with tragedies,” Cavanaugh said.  “This is an exploitation tactic used almost exclusively by liberals, hotheads, and children. Yesterday there was a knee-jerk reaction to try to capture the headlines of every news story in Alabama for political gain. I believe we need strong, measured leadership that puts our children and teachers first- not political pandering.”

In 2013, State Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow, D-Red Bay, sponsored a bill for Franklin County that allows suitable teachers, school personnel, and locals to volunteer to be trained as Reserve Deputy Sheriffs and carry firearms on school grounds.

Cavanaugh said that Morrow’s bill gave the state a model to study for almost five years when it comes to the subject of school safety.

“Yesterday, I spoke with Franklin County Sheriff Shannon Oliver, along with the bill’s sponsor, and the bill seems to be working in Franklin Count,” Cavanaugh said.  “I would ask that the legislature look at this bill and look how well it has worked for Franklin County. This bill could be expanded to a statewide level on a bipartisan basis, as the 2013 bill passed without a single ‘nay’ vote in both the House and the Senate.”

Cavanaugh said that this bill would allow local control of school safety, giving decision-making power to a county’s sheriff, principals, and school board. Many counties do not have the funding for resource officers, leaving law enforcement with a long response time to schools in an active shooter situation.

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For example, in Franklin County, officials pushed for passage of HB 404 in 2013 after the tragedy at Sandy Hook because the Sheriff’s Office realized that their response time in a similar situation would be over thirty minutes to East Franklin.

Ainsworth on Thursday announced that he is introducing legislation allowing some Alabama public school teachers and administrators to undergo firearms training and arm themselves against attacks during school hours.

“Our children are sitting ducks in gun-free schools, and as the parent of three public school students, I believe we must act now in order to prevent another tragedy,” Ainsworth said. “With roughly two-thirds of the regular session remaining, there is ample time to research, introduce, pass, and enact this much-needed and potentially lifesaving legislation.”

Ainsworth said that shortly after news of the school shooting at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was announced, educators in his area asked him to introduce legislation allowing them to protect themselves.

“More gun control will not stop someone who is intent upon inflicting harm in our schools, but someone who is properly trained and armed with the right equipment certainly can,” Ainsworth said. “It is my hope that passage of this legislation can be fast tracked once it has been introduced.”

Ainsworth is expected to announce the introduction of his legislation today in the media center of Guntersville Elementary School where his children attend.  Ainsworth will be joined by law enforcement officers, school superintendents, fellow legislators, and several educators to discuss his legislation.  His bill will allow teachers with Alabama Peace Officers’ Standards and Training certification to carry firearms during school hours.

Among those expected to join Ainsworth at his news conference are:

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  • House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville.
  • State Sen. Clay Scofield, R-Red Hill.
  • State Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Albertville.
  • State Rep. Randall Shedd, R-Fairview.
  • Marshall County Sheriff Scott Walls.
  • Guntersville City Schools Superintendent Brett Stanton.
  • Marshall County School Superintendent Cindy Wigley.
  • DeKalb County School Superintendent Jason Barnett.
  • Guntersville Elementary School Principal John Doyle.
  • Guntersville High School Principal Roseanne Mabrey.
  • Cherokee Elementary Principal Julie Ann McCulley.

Both Ainsworth and Cavanaugh are embracing the concept that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

Some Democrats have already spoken out against the plan.

“I think that’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard,” U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, said on Monday. “I think it’s crazy. You don’t need 40-50 guns in there and it’s a cost issue. You’re going to have to train those teachers. You don’t need to arm America in order to stop this, you just need to be smart about it.”

State Sen. Rusty Glover, R-Semmes, is also running for lieutenant governor in the GOP primary on June 5.

The winner of the Republican primary will face Pastor Dr. Will Boyd in the November general election.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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