In shadows of school shooting, Ohio Senate passes legislation to make it easier to arm teachers

Ohio teachers would need less than a day of training before carrying a gun to school, rather than the currently required month if the House accepts the changes.
The Ohio State House, 2018

Ohio teachers would need less than a day of training before carrying a gun to school, rather than the currently required month if the House agrees with Senate changes to a bill it passed Wednesday.

House Bill 99, which passed the House nearly six months ago, would eliminate the need for teachers to pass the state’s peace officers training course, which includes more than 700 hours of instruction.

Instead, they would only need to complete 24 initial hours of training, along with four reoccurring hours of training established by the attorney general. School districts could require more training.

Staff members also would be required to meet certain range requirements, and school boards must notify the public if it elects to allow staff to be armed.

The bill, which added more required training than the House bill and includes $6 million for school safety, passed on party-line votes by Republicans in both the House and Senate.

“This bill is completely permissive and allows local school boards to either approve or disapprove of carrying weapons in the schoolhouse, thus providing another tool in the toolbox,” said Sen. Frank Hoagland, R-Mingo Junction. “To me safety is paramount. Everything else is a plan and consideration. Our mission is to save lives. Ohio is taking ownership and the burden of assuring a safe education.”

A Democrat amendment to increase training to a minimum of 152 hours was defeated.

State Sen. Cecil Thomas, D-Avondale, called the 24 hours of training madness, despite the killing of 19 elementary school students in Texas a week ago.

“The biggest concern, not only from just myself by my colleagues, and not just parents and teachers, the biggest concern from law enforcement was the amount of training,” West said on the Senate floor. “Folks, we are talking about putting guns in the hands of someone to be in charge of overseeing safety in our schools and the total amount of training required is 24 hours. This is madness.”

The bill moved out of the Senate Veterans and Public Safety Committee on a party-line Republican vote Tuesday after just two hearings, despite a long line of individuals, teachers, the state teachers union, religious groups and other organizations testifying against it.

Elizabeth Overmier, with Brady United Against Gun Violence, testified more guns in schools would create issues for students.

“Adding armed staff will increase not decrease student anxiety,” Overmier said. “Ohio students deserve better than House Bill 99.”

In the House, the bill was opposed by law enforcement, teacher and education groups, churches and parental groups.

The Buckeye Firearm Association and Ohio Gun Owners testified in favor.

Rob Sexton, legislative affairs director at the Buckeye Firearm Association, said the bill protects students and gives school boards the right to make decisions.

“House Bill 99 has one purpose, which is to give our kids a fighting chance in the event the worst happens in their schools,” Sexton testified. “House Bill 99 restores the right of school boards to create school safety plans that include armed staff.”