JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Schools and colleges could allow teachers or staff members to carry guns after they get firearms training, under legislation advanced Wednesday by Mississippi lawmakers.
The state Senate voted 27-18 to pass House Bill 1083 , in response to school shootings in other states. The bill now returns to the House for more debate.
Sen. Briggs Hopson, a Vicksburg Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary A Committee, said he took "no joy" at the prospect of having more guns in schools, but believes it's necessary.
"I want to make it as clear as I can make it," Hopson said. "This is not mandatory. There is no requirement that they do this. This is up to each local school district."
Some Democrats opposed the bill, saying they were concerned about teachers shouldering the burden of carrying guns in addition to all the other responsibilities they bear.
"They are carrying it in and teaching math and have it strapped to their side?" asked Sen. David Jordan, a Greenwood Democrat.
Hopson said some guns are already allowed on campuses because of a Mississippi law allowing concealed-carry permit holders who have received extra training to bring guns into normally prohibited places.
"You're not putting more guns in schools than there were a week ago or a year ago," Hopson said.
The bill was amended Wednesday by Sen. Kevin Blackwell, a Southaven Republican, to tighten requirements for school and college employees to include 36 hours of training, a psychological screening and an annual shooting test where the employee would have to score 85 percent. It would also keep secret the identities of employees carrying weapons.
Hopson's school safety measure was added in a Senate committee to an underlying House bill that allows people to challenge other government restrictions on where they can carry guns. Universities had raised concerns that the bill would let people carry guns into athletic events. Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey warned that teams might decline to play at the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University.
The Senate bill would bar people with enhanced concealed carry permits from carrying guns into school or university athletic events if there are armed police officers at the entrances of a stadium or gymnasium.
A handful of Republicans voted against the bill because it would limit gun rights in that way.
"I have no idea how this body would restrict when we should be expanding these rights," said Sen. Chris McDaniel, an Ellisville Republican who's currently seeking a U.S. Senate seat.
The measure would still allow people to challenge other gun restrictions. Unlike the original proposal, however, it wouldn't void all existing rules that have been imposed by governments.