By CARL SMITH
A bill authorizing school district officials to carry concealed weapons passed the Miss. House Education Committee Monday and will move to the full house for discussion.
As filed by Miss. Rep. Lester Carpenter, a Republican who represents Alcorn and Tishomingo counties, Miss. H.B. 958 would allow local school boards to permit two district employees per school to carry firearms. The bill states those employees who carry weapons on school grounds must obtain a concealed carry license. They are required to complete numerous weapons training and handling courses.
If passed by the House and Senate as written, local school boards which choose to arm employees under this bill would pay costs associated with acquiring concealed carry licenses and firearm training.
Carpenter’s bill is one of many school weapons measures introduced this legislative session.
Miss. Rep. Gary Chism, a Republican who represents Clay, Lowndes and Oktibbeha counties, previously filed a similar school firearms bill, Miss. H.B. 177, but said last week action on the measure was unlikely. The bill, dubbed “The School Protection Act,” would have authorized school administrators access to .38-caliber handguns — the measure’s minimum caliber requirement — and “exploding ammunition which prevents ricochet(s).”
Similar to Carpenter’s Bill, the School Protection Act mandated administrators obtain conceal carry permits and safety training; however, H.B. 958 does not specify a minimum caliber or ordinance type.
Chism confirmed his bill died in committee Tuesday. He is listed as a Miss. H.B. 958 co-author along with 11 other Republicans.
“This bill has more permissive language and allows school boards to have full discretion as to how they want to handle allowing these weapons on campus,” Chism said. “It sort of acts like the Castle Doctrine for schools. We want to make sure our children are safe because they can’t learn if they do not feel safe.”
Starkville School District utilizes armed school resource officers to patrol district campuses. SSD Superintendent Lewis Holloway says those employees function basically as trained police officers. Also, he said, ROTC instructors with special forces training can be utilized as needed by the district.
Holloway said he is in favor of letting specialized SROs handle drastic school emergencies instead of armed administrators or principals.
“Having SROs is a good thing — being armed is a good thing, but I think principals aren’t going to be as effective as an SRO in a school emergency,” he said. “At the end of the day, I don’t know if we’d make schools safer by letting principals have firearms.”
Holloway said the district is taking numerous other safety precautions, including mandatory secondary entrance locks, security camera installations and perimeter fencing construction.
While Oktibbeha County School District does not have its own dedicated force, it does have a security arrangement with the Oktibbeha County Sheriff’s Department. Deputies perform daily campus checks.
Previously, West Oktibbeha County High School Principal Jeffrey Grant said the district’s crisis management plan received approval during the state’s takeover of the district, with drills taking place on a monthly basis. OCSD officials conducted safety drills dealing with intruders following the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Mississippi Department of Education officials also held an active-shooter training session at Overstreet School last month and are actively reviewing statewide safety procedures.