Arkansas Attorney General’s Brief Stops Plan to Arm Teachers

The proposal to arm between 20 and 30 members of school staff in a small county in Arkansas has hit a snag after the state's attorney general said that doing so is not permitted under state law. Democrat Dustin McDaniel issued an opinion that says that the state board charged with licensing private security companies that operate in Arkansas schools lacks the authority to allow such plan to go forward.

Last week, the Associated Press reported on the plan adopted by the Clarksville School District located in the western part of the state to use a little-known state law that allows armed security guards in the state schools to designate some school employees as security workers and allow them to carry concealed weapons on school grounds after a lengthy training course. According to an AP followup, McDaniel's opinion is likely to put a stop to the effort, which was supposed to go into effect this fall.

"Simply put, the code in my opinion does not authorize either licensing a school district as a guard company or classifying it as a private business authorized to employ its own teachers as armed guards," McDaniel wrote.

David Hopkins, Clarksville's superintendent, said he had spoken with McDaniel about the opinion. Hopkins said he was still reviewing the opinion, but "it sounds like he's saying that we can't do the program."

Hopkins said that the district intends to comply with the law. After the program was publicized in the AP story, Hopkins appeared on NBC's "Today" show to talk about the initative, which he said would improve safety of Clarksville schools and reduce the chance that they would become victims of attack like the one carried out in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

After the Sandy Hook shooting, which left 20 dead, the National Rifle Association touted arming teachers and school staff as a good safety countermeasure against spree shooting attacks. However, even in states where gun ownership rates are high, most coordinated efforts to adopt such policies either failed or petered out.

One of the chief barriers to the proposals proved to be insurance companies, many of which threatened to either increase rates or pull coverage altogether from districts that went ahead with plans to arm their school staff.

Participants in Clarksville's program are given a one-time $1,100 stipend to purchase a handgun and holster. Hopkins said the district is paying about $50,000 for ammunition and for training by Nighthawk Custom Training Academy, a private training facility in northwest Arkansas.

The 53-hour training program included roleplaying drills of school shootings, with teachers and staff using "airsoft" pellet guns, and with students wearing protective facemasks and jackets.

The Lake Hamilton School District has been using the same law for years to train a handful of administrators as security guards, but the guns are locked away and not carried by the administrators during the school day.

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