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Bill to arm educators passes out of Committee

Sam Mattison

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Educators in Alabama are one step closer to being able to carry firearms into their classrooms after a House committee narrowly approved a bill to arm school officials.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Will Ainsworth, R-Guntersville, would allow for educators to carry firearms into a school’s campus if they received a minimum of 40 hours of training.

In addition to the minimum requirement, the bill would also allow for local school officials to impose additional requirements, and would give the officials the final say on who can and cannot carry a weapon.

Under the current provisions, only a select few in the school would know who possessed the gun, and parents would not be privy to the information. The situation has been described like the Air Marshal’s program, where anonymous law enforcement carry guns on planes unannounced to the aircraft’s passengers.

Ainsworth’s bill was combined with state Rep. Allen Farley, R-McCalla, which would have allowed schools to establish a security force. Both bills were presented during a public hearing on Wednesday, where education officials both supported and denounced the measure.

At Thursday’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee meeting, the opposing representatives let their dissent be known.

Rep. Mary Moore, D-Birmingham, said that educators are trained to teach and not fire guns at students. Moore has been an opponent since Ainsworth filed the legislation and filed legislation of her own to ban the sale of semi-automatic weapons.

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Moore was sharply critical of the lack of a funding mechanism in Ainsworth’s legislation.

Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, accused Ainsworth of making a political move with the bill, and called it a “great campaign” bill.

Farley said the bill was not a political move, but came at the behest of his wife, who encouraged him to file the legislation after the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting a month ago that ended with more than a dozen dead.

Ainsworth, who has three children in public education, made similar statements.

The last opponent to speak was a former teacher and the only Republican against the bill.

Rep. Harry Shiver, R-Stockton, said at the meetings that firearm would not be welcomed in school and said that “lady teachers” wouldn’t even carry firearms.

The comment inspired the ire of some online including gun rights activist and Deputy Director of Legislative Affairs for Gun Rights Inc. Shanna Marie Chamblee.

“I’m checking my calendar to make sure I didn’t time warp back a few centuries,” Chamblee wrote on Facebook. “I’ve just sat in this committee and listened to both a Democrat AND a Republican House Representative say that ‘Lady Teachers’ shouldn’t carry guns and aren’t capable of defending like a male! WHAT!?!?!?!?”

In an interview with al.com, Shiver double-downed on his comments.

“I’m not saying all (women), but in most schools, women are (the majority) of the teachers,” Shiver said to al.com. “Some of them just don’t want to (be trained to possess firearms). If they want to, then that’s good. But most of them don’t want to learn how to shoot like that and carry a gun.”

Despite the controversy created by Shiver’s comments, the bill narrowly passed the committee 5-4. It’s trajectory now is up in the air.

Ainsworth and others in the House are confident that they can pass it before the end of this year’s Session, which seems to be drawing to a near end. The representative told reporters on Wednesday that the bill was a “priority” for House leadership.

Its real path to final passage lies in getting past the Senate.

Speaking to reporters after the Senate’s meeting on Thursday, Senate Pro-Temp Del Marsh, R-Anniston, indicated that the bill would not be a priority for the upper chamber.

With only two weeks left, the bill must overcome the Senate in only 5 days without a fast track set by Senate leadership. A vote is expected on the bill in the House next week.

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