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Republican Legislative Priorities: More Guns in Schools

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There’s one thing observers of the Montana Legislature can count on: faced with important budget decisions and policy questions, Montana Republicans in the Legislature will spend time every session pushing bills to rile up that small part of their constituency who believe that more guns in more places will, despite all the available evidence, make Montana safer.

And they’re already back at it. A quick look at the bill draft requests shows that a number of Republicans have once again come to the Legislature armed with bill requests that would undermine local control of schools while drastically reducing student and teacher safety. Chief among these proposals are two requests are those from Senator Keith Regier, who has one draft likely to replicate his badly-named 2017 “Montana School Safety Act” and another to hold a referendum on the same when it inevitably fails to become law.

Assuming Regier’s proposal hasn’t changed substantially since the 2017 session, it would not only make it easier for school staff to bring weapons to school, but it would prohibit school districts from setting their own policies prohibiting guns on campus. State law already lets school boards permit concealed carry on campus, but as of 2017, only three very small districts had any armed teachers. A story from the Billings Gazette in 2017 illustrated a likely reason why:

In Cut Bank, self-described “gun nut” and superintendent Wade Johnson has been on both sides of the debate. A few years ago, he asked school trustees for permission to carry a gun. They said no. And after reviewing research that showed New York City Police had hit their target 18 percent of the time in shootouts, he now agrees.

“That’s unacceptable in a school,” he said.

Despite the macho posturing of Republican legislators who imagine they’d calmly stop a mass shooting on a campus, the presence of more guns would likely only create more chaos in an actual shooting situation and the Parkland tragedy demonstrates that even trained law enforcement on the scene is no guarantee that a shooter would be stopped.

And the National Association of School Resource Officers agrees, arguing that:

no firearms be on a school campus except those carried by carefully selected, specially trained school resource officers (SROs), who are career law enforcement officers with sworn authority, deployed by employing police departments or agencies in community-oriented policing assignments to work in collaboration with schools.

Even trained professionals struggle with guns on school campuses. A Missoula SRO was placed on leave after she left her gun in a school bathroom. At another Missoula incident, an SRO accidentally fired her gun in the parking lot during a training exercise. And it happened in Virginia. And Florida. In Minnesota, where a student fired an SRO’s gun. And Pennsylvania. And New York.

Each of those incidents involved a trained law enforcement officer, but Senator Regier believes that Montana schools will somehow be safer with harried teachers, who, trust me, sometimes forget where everything in their lives is located, carrying around guns in their classrooms.

It’s an aggressively idiotic idea and one that ignores a much more effective way to reduce the threat of school violence: making it harder for people who shouldn’t have them to have access to guns. The idea rests on disproven conservative talking points about schools as “shooting galleries” because they are gun-free zones and ignore that our energy should be spent educating kids and adults about gun safety, not bringing more weapons to places of learning.

Montana doesn’t need legislative debate or referenda about increasing the number of guns in schools; it needs more legislators willing to stand up to the zealots at the NRA and Montana Shooting Sports Association, who neither represent the majority of Montanans nor the majority of gun owners in the state.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we\'d certainly appreciate it.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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