Guns on school campuses is always a hot topic across the country, but Sen Shelley Hughes of Palmer, Alaska has never shied away from hot topics during her years in the Alaska Legislature. A bill that would allow some school professionals to carry concealed weapons on school grounds was introduced by Hughes this session.
Senate Bill 173 would require school districts to grant qualified persons an assigned duty to carry a concealed handgun on school grounds under certain conditions.
Last year, there were 346 shooting incidents in schools in the United States, and 248 victims wounded or killed, according to a presentation from Hughes’ office. Over the past five years, 1073 victims were wounded or killed on school grounds, according to U.S. News and World Report.
One supporter of the plan, an Anchorage teacher, told the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee that she had qualms about one aspect: The requirement that the persons assigned to carry firearms meet police physical fitness standards is too much, she said. Many teachers are in their fifties and sixties and would not be able to meet those standards, but would otherwise be qualified to carry.
The bill also requires the eligible gun-toting teacher to complete a recognized firearms training course.
Alaska’s worst school shooting was in Bethel in 1997, when a student pulled a gun out at the high school and killed a student and the principal. Not coincidentally, SB 173 was suggested by a retired teacher who was at the school when the shooting occurred.
“If we do nothing, it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” Hughes said. “This is a critical conversation, and it is time for critical decision-making. If we want to prevent the deaths of school children in Alaska, we need to act. If we wait to address this matter until after precious children have died, what a dreadful shame and inexcusable mistake that will be.”
Superintendents and school boards in Alaska can set policy to allow concealed carry, but no schools allow it, according to Hughes. The bill sets clear guidelines for training, qualifications, and hiring personnel for concealed carry on school grounds “to trusted, stable, respected, and well-trained individuals,” she said.
Sen. Rob Myers of Fairbanks and Sen. Mike Shower of Wasilla are cosponsors of the bill, which is being held in the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee, which is chaired by freshman Sen. Jesse Bjorkman of North Kenai, who is a public school teacher.
Sen. Hughes addressed the topic on Facebook on Jan. 22:
Schools are now considered gun-free zones, which makes all who are in those zones into easy targets. Hughes believes preparedness in Alaska is of critical importance given the size of the state and the harsh weather conditions that could arise, which could delay response times. Every minute of response time to an active shooter in a school building is a matter of life or death, she said.
“Due to distance, when law enforcement response in Alaska can take from a few minutes to a few hours, or with inclement weather in remote communities, even longer … We need well-trained individuals on-site who can respond immediately,” Hughes said. “The Safe Schools Act is a necessary step toward protecting this and future generations from reckless harm so our young Alaskans can focus on learning and make a positive difference in our communities.”
The bill particulars can be found at this link.