Ronald Barnes, School Violence Prevention Coordinator for Covington County Schools, uses a keycard in order to enter Carver Middle School in Collins, Friday, Dec. 9, 2022. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

The Mississippi Senate on Wednesday passed with no debate a measure that would create a program to allow armed, trained teachers in Mississippi schools.

The measure now heads to the House for consideration.

Senate Bill 2079, authored by Sen. Angela Burks Hill, R-Picayune, would create a firearms training and licensure program for teachers in public and private schools that choose to participate. Mississippi Homeland Security, under the Department of Public Safety, would establish the program, training and licensure. The bill also tasks the DPS commissioner with coming up with guidelines for dealing with school shooting situations, “so we don’t ever have a situation like they did in Uvalde (Texas).”

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Teachers participating in the program would have to have a state enhanced gun carry permit in addition to the training and certificate from the new program. The measure provides civil and criminal protections to armed teachers in the program.

Hill said the program is modeled on those in other states, including Florida and Texas.

The bill passed the Seante with no debate, although 13 Democrats in the 52-member chamber voted against it. Sen. Angela Turner Ford, D-West Point, questioned whether there were funds available for the program. Hill responded that there would like be grants available through Homeland Security.

DPS Commissioner Sean Tindell has proposed schools pay trained armed teachers a stipend of $500 a month. Hill said the bill passed Wednesday would make that stipend optional for school districts.

A recent survey by Mississippi Professional Educators showed 64% of its members supported having properly trained educators or school staff respond to shootings. Gov. Tate Reeves also recommended such a program in his budget recommendation to the Legislature.

The Mississippi Association of Educators said its member teachers have voiced concerns about the training, guns ending up in the wrong hands, and adding more duties for teachers beyond educating.

DPS and state Department of Education officials have said having a trained school resource law enforcement officer on every campus would be the best option, but that funding or lack of local officers can hinder that.

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Geoff Pender serves as senior political reporter, working closely with Mississippi Today leadership on editorial strategy and investigations. Pender brings 30 years of political and government reporting experience to Mississippi Today. He was political and investigative editor at the Clarion Ledger, where he also penned a popular political column. He previously served as an investigative reporter and political editor at the Sun Herald, where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Hurricane Katrina coverage. Originally from Florence, Mississippi, Pender is a journalism graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has received numerous awards throughout his career for reporting, columns and freedom of information efforts.