Senate Bill 383 on Arming Teachers

Amanda Magen

After last month’s tragic shooting in Parkland, gun control discussions have swept the nation. All across the country, students have taken it upon themselves to take a stand on this issue; a walkout in memory of the lives lost in Florida has been organized for the 14th of March. However, many of us are unaware of current gun legislation in our own state.

In June of 2017, Senate Bill 383 passed the Pennsylvania Senate by a 28-22 vote allowing teachers with concealed carry rights to bring their firearms into schools if the individual district allows it. This is now an active bill in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Governor Tom Wolfe, however, has announced his intent to veto the bill if it passes through the House. Eleven states currently allow concealed carry for teachers.

The locations of supporters and opponents to this bill are something to be considered. 26 Republicans and 2 Democrats supported the bill, and 14 Democrats and 8 Republicans were against it. Every senator from Philadelphia, as well as all eight Republican senators from the southeastern districts, voted against the bill. Supporters of the bill were mostly from more rural areas of Pennsylvania.

Supporters of the bill include Don White, a senator from Indiana, PA. In his defense of the bill, he stated, “Time is a critical element when a violent incident occurs in a school. Many schools in rural areas rely on State Police coverage, which means response times can vary. Senate Bill 383 gives trained school personnel the opportunity to serve as first responders.” Indiana is a small town (less than 15000 residents) located in southwest Pennsylvania. Defenders such as White point out that in more isolated areas, particularly smaller rural schools without the funding for extensive and expensive security, allowing teachers to carry weapons is better than being utterly defenseless. “I will sleep better at night knowing our school districts have more tools at their disposal to fight the unspeakable evil that causes a few in our society to seek to harm our children,” said Senator White.

Opponents of the bill have referenced a FBI study conducted between 2000 and 2013, which examined 160 “active shooter” incidents. They found that of the 21 cases in which the shooter was apprehended by a bystander, only one was armed. Others have voiced their concerns that if teachers have guns, then students will have easier access to these weapons. Senator Daylin Leach read a letter from surviving staff members of the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012 before the vote took place, which urged for a vote against the bill.

The bill has several amendments attached, such as requiring a teacher to pass a psychological exam in order to carry a firearm. Firearm safety plans must also be filed by the school boards in accordance with the local law enforcement agency. School boards who choose to implement the bill must notify the local hospital as well as the families of students. Senator White said these amendments “make this a stronger bill.”

Rather than supporting or opposing this bill, many are unaware of existence. Especially now, with gun control as a major national debate, it is important to discuss this active legislation in our own state.