Politics & Government

GOP leaders are standing in the way of a debate on arming teachers, supporters say

State lawmakers who want to allow teachers to carry guns in school moved to build support for the idea while acknowledging that the chances of it becoming law this year are dimming.

"Seeking to avoid controversy in an election year, our leadership has chosen not to allow this bill even to be heard in committee," said Rep. Larry Pittman, a Cabarrus County Republican and one of the bill's sponsors. "This is a failure to act that I fear may one day cost lives that could have been saved."

His warnings echoed an email he sent legislators in April, in which Pittman said there would be "blood on our hands" if the legislature did not act to deter shooters.

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States considered a wave of new laws to protect schools after the February massacre at Marjory Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida, left 17 dead.

North Carolina's Republican legislature has focused on more access to mental health professionals, safety equipment, and school resource officers.

Democrats' gun-related proposals have also been buried in committee. That includes a "red flag" bill that would allow family members or law enforcement officers who have first-hand knowledge of someone behaving in a threatening manner in possession of or with access to a firearm to petition a district court judge for a gun violence restraining order.

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Pittman's proposal would allow teachers with concealed weapons permits and 16 hours of active shooter training to take handguns to school if their local school boards allow it. The bill was sent to the Rules Committee, where many proposals are left to languish.

Paul Valone, president of Grassroots NC, says he supports a bill that would allow teachers with concealed carry permits and extra training to carry guns at school He spoke at a press conference held at the Legislative Building in Raleigh on June 5, 2018. Abby Igoe

Paul Valone, head of the gun rights group Grass Roots North Carolina who helped write the bill, said 14 states allow teachers to carry firearms to protect students. He warned that unless the state passes "some type of deterrent" it would likely face a tragedy similar to the shooting in Parkland.

Pittman said he wasn't giving up on the bill. "If we fail even to consider this option, and children, teachers and school staff die who might have been saved if we had allowed school personnel to be armed, I do not want to be at fault for that."

Jean Fitzsimmons, a retired teacher and Marine Corps captain, says he supports a bill that would allow teachers with concealed carry permits and extra training to carry guns at school. He spoke at a press conference held at the Legislative Building in Raleigh on June 5, 2018. Abby Igoe

Jean Fitzsimmons, a retired social studies teacher, spoke up for allowing armed teachers in school.

"I believe that there are many teachers who want to be armed and want to be in a position to protect their children from any kind of a school shooter," said Fitzsimmons, of Hickory, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who retired after 21 years teaching in Western North Carolina. "If I'm sitting there between the door, closed at the moment, and my students, and there's somebody outside the door with a firearm that wants to kill them, I want to be armed. I do not want to be like the football coach at Parkland who gave up his life just to shield his students momentarily before his students were gunned down."

However, most North Carolina teachers said in a poll this spring that they thought arming teachers would make schools less safe and would harm the learning environment. In the Elon University/ News & Observer/Charlotte Observer poll, 78 percent of teachers thought arming teachers was a bad idea.

Since the Parkland shooting, teachers who accidentally discharged weapons at school have made national news.

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Rep. Michael Speciale, a Republican from Craven County who sponsored the armed-teacher bill with Pittman, said there have been other cases in which teachers and vice principals who had guns in their cars were able to save lives.

'Somebody needs to be there to stop the carnage," he said. "There aren't enough law enforcement officers available to do this."

Bonner: 919-829-4821: @Lynn_Bonner
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