School staffers could carry concealed guns in schools under a bill the House Education Committee advanced Wednesday.
Sponsored by Rep. John Eklund (R, HD-10, Cheyenne), the bill would allow school boards to authorize staff members to carry a concealed weapon on school property. After a hearing the evening of Jan. 25, the House Education Committee voted 8 to 1 in favor of HB194.
Nobody blamed grizzly bears, but President Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Education, Betsy DeVos, might have been pleased by favorable testimony that praised local control.
During her confirmation hearing Jan. 17, DeVos faced aggressive questioning about guns in schools from Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, who represents Sandy Hook, the site of a 2012 shooting of 20 students and six adults in an elementary school.
DeVos cited Wyoming to answer why the decision on guns in schools was best made locally. She referenced comments made by U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi about a rural school in Wapiti that is fenced to protect students from wildlife.
“I would imagine that there’s probably a gun in the school to protect from potential grizzlies,” DeVos said. The comment quickly went viral and was widely ridiculed online.
The attention got Ray Schulte, superintendent for Park County School District No. 6, an interview with national news. He told CNN reporter Dan Alsup that guns are illegal on school property in Wyoming.
Eklund’s bill would change that. The bill would require an application process, and only employees with a concealed carry permit could be approved by the school boards. The school board would be required to maintain a list of everyone in the schools that was authorized to carry a firearm. The list would have to be made available to local law enforcement agencies.
The committee amended the bill Wednesday night to exempt that list from public records requests. The change aims to prevent potential school attackers from learning which staff members carry guns, lawmakers said.
Guns would have to be either on the carrier’s body, in a locked box, or in a “sealed biometric container” under the carrier’s control.
“I think of coaches coaching basketball. They may not want to be running up and down the court with a gun strapped to them,” Eklund said while explaining the bill.
It was Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow who first referenced DeVos’ testimony on Wednesday night.
“Guns in schools over the last couple of weeks have landed as the punchline in a couple of jokes,” Balow said. “I don’t think it’s OK to be making the jokes we have as a state or as a nation about guns in schools.”
Balow supported the bill. When she lived in rural Hulett, she said, it sometime could take months to replace a deputy or local police officer who left the job.
During those periods, “the closest law enforcement officer was a minimum of 32 miles away,” she said.
What she really liked about the bill, Balow said, was that it left the decision in the hands of local school boards.
Support of local control over the decision, which ultimately seemed to be the point of DeVos’s example on Capitol Hill, was on display Wednesday night in the Jonah Center, Wyoming’s temporary capitol. Every person who gave testimony, whether for or against the bill, supported leaving the decision to the school boards, and opposed a mandate from the state.
Brian Farmer, executive director of the Wyoming School Boards Association, said school boards across the state would have different opinions on whether to allow guns in schools. “That’s the beautiful thing about this bill,” he said.
Rep. Hans Hunt (R, HD-2, Newcastle) said that what may be right for a rural school won’t be necessary for some urban schools.
Kathy Vetter, president of the Wyoming Education Association, a lobby for teachers, spoke against the bill. Her organization is opposed to having guns in schools and around children, she said.
“We appreciate the local control, that this isn’t a blanket bill that says anyone and everyone, but we’d really appreciate it if guns were not in schools,” she said.
One argument made in favor of the bill was that Wyoming did not offer state funding for school resource officers, a euphemism for armed police officers stationed at schools. Given the state’s education funding crisis, “the funding for them is going to be slimmer still,” said Marguerite Herman from Laramie County.
Rep. Debbie Bovee (D, HD-36, Casper), a retired teacher, was the lone vote against the bill. She referenced a female teacher in Wyoming who was attacked and overpowered by a male fourth grade student. “If she’d been carrying a gun, he would’ve used it,” she said.