Hours after authorities say a 15-year-old student shot and killed two classmates at a western Kentucky high school, a Republican senator in the state’s Capitol rushed to file a bill intended to prevent future tragedies — by putting more guns in schools.
The legislation from state Sen. Steve West would let local districts hire armed marshals to patrol public schools, make citizen’s arrests and protect people from “imminent death or serious physical injury.” Marshals wouldn’t have to be police officers, but school district employees in good standing who have a license to carry concealed weapons.
“I’m going to be beating the drum again. We had this shooting this week. If we do what we did last time and nothing is done, this will come back again,” West said of Tuesday’s violence.
His is one of at least two bills that would allow more guns into Kentucky’s public schools and on college campuses. They reflect sentiments that have found bipartisan support in a conservative state whose politicians routinely pose in ads with guns, and where the National Rifle Association held its 2016 national convention. The NRA has an outsized influence in many state elections and the resulting gun policy debates in those legislatures.
“You know, we’re in Kentucky,” said Ralph Alvarado, a Republican state senator and medical doctor who co-sponsored West’s legislation. “This debate always comes up, restricting gun use in the state. I’m just adamantly opposed to it. It’s a constitutional right that we have. It’s one of those things that it’s going to be tough to ever get that kind of a concept through.”
Some Democrats think the GOP push for more guns in schools is misplaced. State Rep. Attica Scott from Louisville said she is “definitely an advocate for gun safety and to me more guns is not the answer to gun violence.” Scott has filed legislation that would ban those convicted of hate crimes from carrying a gun and let local governments pass laws requiring gun sellers to use “responsible business practices.”
“We are training our babies how to react when faced with an active shooter, but we are not taking action on gun safety,” Scott said told her colleagues in a speech on the House floor this week. “We are sending prayers and thoughts to kids who are clinging to the last bit of faith they have in the system of government that is supposed to keep them safe.”
And Democratic Rep. Jim Wayne of Louisville has filed a bill that would make it a crime for adults to “recklessly” store a gun without a trigger lock, a measure aimed at preventing children and teenagers from having access to their parents’ guns.
“We don’t know if the perpetrator (in Marshall County) had a gun that was maybe stored properly or had a gun lock on it he was able to disengage,” Wayne said. “Regardless, we had a child shooting children. If we can do anything to protect one life of one child, that is what we need to do as a body.”
The shooting Tuesday at Marshall County High School left two students dead, 14 wounded by gunfire and others injured in the rush to escape the violence.
As school shootings become more commonplace, debates are raging in Kentucky and state legislatures nationwide about how to prevent them. Some pursue laws that would make it harder for teenagers and others to buy guns and bring them onto school grounds. Others, including some Democrats, want to increase the number of people allowed to carry guns in schools, believing that will deter shootings from starting and quickly stop the ones that do.
“We need armed officers in every school in Kentucky. That is a small price to pay if it saves one child’s life,” Kentucky Democratic state Sen. Ray Jones said.
Similar bills have been filed in Florida, Indiana, Pennsylvania and South Carolina, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. At least 11 states have passed laws allowing security officers to carry guns on K-12 school grounds, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Kentucky does not allow guns on K-12 school grounds, with a few exceptions for police officers and unloaded weapons used for hunting. Some schools have assigned police officers in schools, known as school resource officers, but state funding for them has been scant and whether to allow them to carry guns on school property is left up to local school boards.
“Anytime a law enforcement officer, a sworn officer of the law, is present, we recommend that he or she be armed,” said Jon Akers, executive director of the Kentucky Center for School Safety, which provides training for local school districts.
Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has made it clear he won’t sign laws that place restrictions on guns. In a video posted on his social media accounts, Bevin said the problem of gun violence in schools and elsewhere is rooted in violent movies and music lyrics that desensitize young people to the tragedy of death.
“Be mindful of what is listened to. To those of you who play music over the intercom at the halftime of various sporting events, be mindful of what those lyrics are at every turn,” Bevin said. “Our culture is crumbling from within and the cost of it is high.”