On Jan. 14, Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial, Neb., proposed Legislative Bill 879, a bill that permits teachers and staff to carry concealed handguns in public and private schools and universities in the state of Nebraska, as long as they have 24 hours of training. In addition to training, teachers would need school board approval to carry a handgun in the classroom or on campus. Growing up in rural Nebraska, I have been around firearms my whole life. I took hunter education classes in middle school, my family shoots trap every spring and summer, and I have been deer hunting with my grandpa and uncles. I know firearms are not toys, and the safe use and handling of guns is always on my mind when I am around them. Though I believe people have the right to keep and bear arms, I don’t believe firearms belong in Nebraska schools — even in the hands of teachers and staff.
The high school I attended employed an armed school resource officer: a trained police officer employed jointly by the city police department and the school. Many other schools across the country employ similar officers who have undergone extensive firearm and safety training, but some western Nebraska school districts don’t have the access to funds to hire an armed school resource officer, and emergency response times in rural areas are much greater than in urban areas. These are some of the concerns that Christensen himself has raised.
Currently, Nebraska law allows on-duty uniformed police officers to carry weapons on school property, but off-duty officers and citizens with conceal-carry permits are not allowed to do so. If LB879 passes and school boards decide to enact it, teachers and staff would be required to undergo 24 hours of training in addition to Nebraska’s current 8 hours required for a concealed-carry permit. Recently, two of Nebraska’s border states, Kansas and South Dakota, have passed laws allowing teachers to carry firearms in school, but officials from these states haven’t noticed a large amount of districts taking advantage of these laws. In Kansas, liability insurance problems have proved obstacles to teachers carrying firearms in school, as reported by the Omaha World-Herald. This is the sort of problem that could come up in Nebraska if LB879 is passed.
The classroom and school are supposed to be safe places to learn. While I think armed school resource officers make schools safer, teachers and other staff armed with handguns won’t. More guns on school campuses will only increase access to the wrong people, and it would only be a matter of time before a teacher failed to secure his or her weapon. Even if a teacher or staff member is allowed to carry a firearm in the classroom, there is a risk of he or she being overpowered and the weapon being used against him or her.
Educators and other politicians also have problems with the bill. Jay Sears of the Nebraska State Education Association said in the bill’s hearing on Feb. 28 that trained officers alone should carry weapons. In the past, Gov. Dave Heineman has raised concerns with the bill as well.
Instead of allowing teachers and staff to carry firearms on campuses and in classrooms across Nebraska (especially in rural areas where response times are greater than in populous areas), lawmakers in the state should focus on law enforcement reform or look at providing funding to schools to hire trained police officers. Many schools now secure their buildings throughout the day with controlled access to entrances and security cameras, allowing staff to monitor guests coming in and out of the school.
If LB879 passes, teachers in public and private schools, colleges and universities (including our own university) will be allowed to carry handguns in the classroom, if the schools’ administrative bodies choose to allow it. While firearms are useful tools for hunting and self-defense, allowing them in school classrooms and on university campuses only presents more opportunities for things to go wrong.
Travis Eubanks is a freshman Speech-Language Pathology major. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.