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South Carolina bill could allow teachers to carry guns in the classroom

WPDE/A new SC bill could give teachers permission to carry guns in the classroom.

(WPDE) -- A bill is waiting for review in the State Committee on Education and Public Works that would allow South Carolina teachers to have guns in schools.

It's not just teachers. Any personnel at the school could carry a gun if they passed the appropriate training. Those people would be known as School Protection Officers.

Legislators proposed a similar bill in 2012, just after the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

In 2013, at least 33 states introduced more than 80 bills related to arming teachers and school staff.

While seven states moved forward, the Palmetto State did not.

That's why legislators are trying again.

State Representative Phillip Lowe from Florence County said since schools are known gun-free zones, that makes them targets.

"The people who are deranged and want to inflict pain chose a school because it's a gun-free zone, and they can inflict the most punishment on innocent people," said Lowe.

If the bill becomes law, it doesn't mean every district would have to take part in it.

"It doesn't force the district to participate, and it doesn't force them to take every candidate who may want to be a protection officer," said Lowe.

The school boards would work with each school and choose administrators who would go through extensive training, allowing them to have a gun on school property.

Alan Walters, Director of Safety and Risk Management for Georgetown County Schools said the School Protection Officers would undergo the same training law enforcement goes through. However, law enforcement training is 12 weeks long, not 2 weeks.

"It's a major responsibility when you're putting a firearm in the hands of a civilian in a school. Liability comes with making split second decisions. Law enforcement officers receive extensive training on how to do that. I was for many years, I've been through that. Having someone with two weeks of training, I'm just not necessarily convinced that that is sufficient," said Walters.

The training is through the South Carolina Justice Academy.

"Another issue says an applicant can get a provision permit before completing the class. I think that could be a liability issue. So you have someone in the school with a provisional permit and has to use it prior to receiving the training. Most law enforcement agencies don't let officers out until they've gone through all their training. This essentially says they can start those duties in the school while waiting for the training," said Walters.

Walters is most concerned about the safety of the civilians.

"If an incident were to happen, an active shooter situation and you have officers converging on that school, now you have civilians who aren't in police uniforms brandishing weapons, and the cops coming in don't know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. That's where the potential conflict would come in. How do they distinguish between the good guys and the bad guys when they get there? Even though the bill would require SLED to keep a registry of who the school protection officers are if an active shooter situation is going on, you don't have the time to pull out a list and start looking and say is this good guy or a bad guy," said Walters.

Joe Defeo, Horry County School Board Chairman, is in support of the bill as long as some things are cleared up.

"I would be in favor of a bill that would allow certain school employees, maybe not particularly teachers, but certainly there are others within the school that aren't always in the classroom with students to have availability or to carry a weapon in the school," said Defeo.

Defeo said with a teacher having a gun in the classroom, students would be able to figure out which teachers had the gun more easily.

"I think it would be ideal to have several police officers in every school, that is extremely expensive. It's about $50,000 to have an SRO at a school. I think this is a way of not spending several million dollars of taxpayers money and at the same time providing the extra security that I believe the children and the parents deserve," said Defeo.

In Horry County, middle and high schools have school resource officers. Georgetown County schools also have them in elementary schools. However, Defeo said in some cases, one just isn't enough.

"If you look at our real large high schools, one SRO may not do it. If we had extra armed people they would work in conjunction with the SRO," said Defeo.

This topic is a very controversial issue that's sparked a lot of conversation in the community.

Many people ABC 15 News talked to about this topic were in favor of the bill.

"I think that's the best thing they could do because if you have a gunman come into the school how are they going to protect those children or themselves if they don't have weapons? They need to protect those kids because shootings are getting out of control. As long as they keep those guns out of reach of those children and they can get access to them if something does happen then it's the perfect plan. We have to protect our children somehow," said Amanda Hitt, of Conway.

Some were completely against the idea.

"I think that's crazy to be honest with you," said Christine Vitkuske of Myrtle Beach. "I mean I understand they want to protect the children but I think there are other measures they can do without bringing firearms into a physical classroom with children. I mean I have grandchildren, my children are grown now but I wouldn't be comfortable as a parent. I think you can do other measures to protect a child rather than bring more violence into the room itself."

Others thought the bill has positives and negatives.

"I have very mixed feelings. I do feel like it could benefit the teachers and the children and save lives. However, I also feel like people could use them prematurely," said Clara Starkey of Myrtle Beach.

For more information on the bill, click here.

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