Arkansas District to Start Arming Some Teachers, Staff this Fall

Starting this fall, more than 20 teachers, administrators and school employees in Clarksville, Arkansas will take advantage of the state's previously little-known law that allows armed guards on school campuses to begin carrying weapons in school.

Andrew DeMillio of the Associated Press writes that the move to put weapons in the hands of school workers in the district comes from student safety concerns in the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Preparing for such a scenario has been the preoccupation of many schools and an even greater number of police officers around the country. However, the National Rifle Association has repeatedly stressed in the months since the shooting that the best solution is putting guns in the hands of school employees.

Now it appears that Clarksville, a district in a state with high gun ownership rates, is ready to take this step.

Dougan is among more than 20 teachers, administrators and other school employees in this town who will carry concealed weapons throughout the school day, making use of a little-known Arkansas law that allows licensed, armed security guards on campus. After undergoing 53 hours of training, Dougan and other teachers at the school will be considered guards.

"The plan we've been given in the past is ‘Well, lock your doors, turn off your lights and hope for the best,'" Superintendent David Hopkins said. But as deadly incidents continued to happen in schools, he explained, the district decided, "That's not a plan."

According to Clarksville High School assistant principal Cheyne Dougan, this made perfect sense. A large number of the town's 9,200 residents own guns, and many students come from gun-owning households. The downsides paled in comparison to the increased level of safety and lower levels of parental concerns for their children while they're in school.

Although state officials are not standing in the way of Clarksville plans, Tom Kimbrell, Arkansas's Education Commissioner, expressed concerns. He opposes arming school teachers and staff and believes a better solution is to employ former and current law enforcement officers as school security guards.

There are other dissenters, too. Donna Morey, former president of the Arkansas Education Association, called the idea of arming teachers "awful." The risk of a student accidentally getting shot or obtaining a gun outweighs any benefits, she said.
"We just think educators should be in the business of educating students, not carrying a weapon," Morey said.

Although a number of states took up proposals to arm school staff after the Sandy Hook shooting, some have had second thoughts since being warned by their insurance providers that they will face higher premiums.

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