A Senate committee passed a bill on Tuesday that would allow teachers and other public school employees to carry firearms on K-12 campuses.

Senators passed the bill on a 7-4 vote, called the Mississippi School Safety Act, days after the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., where an active shooter killed 17 people.

“This is another tool in the toolbox to help ensure our children, teachers, and staff members are safe,” said Sen. Briggs Hopson, R-Vicksburg, chairman of the Judiciary A committee that passed the proposal.

“This is a common-sense way for schools to increase student safety, should their leadership deem it necessary to do so,” Gov. Phil Bryant said in a statement. “As I shared with President Trump on Monday at the White House, we must do all we can to protect our children. This is part of that effort.”

The bill would do several things:

• Public school employees or school resource officers who first received approval from their local school board would have to take no fewer than 12 hours in a new school safety course administered by the Department of Public Safety.

• Approved firearm carriers would have to pass that course every two years.

• School officials and law enforcement officials would have a list of those approved to carry weapons on campus.

• Courts would decide whether to convict those who were approved to carry on campus in the event of a firearm discharge.

Hopson said he has briefly talked with Public Safety Commissioner Marshall Fisher about the implementation of the special training course and that they did not yet have specifics nailed out.

“I’ll be talking more with him in coming days about that,” Hopson said.

The proposal was substituted in place of an earlier House bill that would provide avenues for residents with concealed carry permits to sue entities that refuse to allow them to carry weapons, such as to sporting events. 

After backlash from the Southeastern Conference and university presidents in the state, the Senate on Tuesday removed that provision.

“The safety of our students while in the classroom should never be in question, but that is not a given in today’s schools, unfortunately,” Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said in a statement. “By allowing more school staff to receive proper training on how to respond to immediate threats, I hope we can avoid the tragedies we’ve seen on campuses around the country and in Mississippi.”

The Mississippi Association of Educators, a statewide association of teachers, condemned the proposal Tuesday.

“Having more guns in schools is not the answer to school safety. In fact, it is the opposite of making schools safer,” said association president Joyce Helmick. “The role of teachers is to educate our children, not to act as armed guards. This should be left to professional law enforcement, who are skillfully trained for more than 12 hours, which is all the Senate Amendment currently mandates for teachers.”

Stacey Donaldson, who has two children attending a Jackson charter school and one at Terry High School, was at the Capitol lobbying for better public school funding Tuesday. She said it’s unbelievable that the Legislature would consider arming school personnel while eyeing cuts to the public school budget.

“It doesn’t make any sense that we would fund the holding of weapons by teachers but we wouldn’t fund the schools where children should get the education that they need,” she said.

Contributing: R.L. Nave

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Adam Ganucheau, as Mississippi Today's editor-in-chief, oversees the newsroom and works with the editorial team to fulfill our mission of producing high-quality journalism in the public interest. Adam has covered politics and state government for Mississippi Today since February 2016. A native of Hazlehurst, Adam has worked as a staff reporter for AL.com, The Birmingham News and The Clarion-Ledger and his work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Adam earned his bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Mississippi.