Epps, Talton sponsor bill to allow administrators to carry guns at schools


By MAGGIE LEE — mlee@macon.com

ATLANTA — Two days into the annual state legislative session, a pair of Middle Georgia lawmakers have stepped into what may turn into a rowdy debate by advocating letting certain school administrators carry guns.

The signatures of state Reps. Bubber Epps, R-Dry Branch, and Willie Talton, R-Warner Robins, were among the first on House Bill 35. The measure would let school boards designate administrators to carry firearms, including concealed weapons, on school property, after undergoing weapons training.

“Our society right now is so focused on protection, and rightfully so,” said Talton, a retired Houston County chief deputy sheriff. The bill, he said, is one way for schools that can’t afford full-time security to have some protection.

“I’m emphasizing training,” he said.

The bill says designated administrators must obtain a weapons carry license, then complete the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council basic training course or an equivalent that may be created.

That training is several steps above what Georgians need in order to carry a concealed weapon. Residents of Texas, Florida and other states have to take a gun safety class to get a concealed carry permit. The Georgia Legislature failed to act on proposals for similar rules in 2011 and 2012.

“The fiscal aspect of it at some school systems will be a challenge,” said Epps, because each school board would pay for the administrator’s POST training. But he added, “I think if you had to hire outside security, then you’d get embroiled in the affordability aspect.”

School security costs now vary from system to system. Some pay for their own school officers, some are patrolled by local law enforcement, and others share the costs with law enforcement.

Epps said he doesn’t know if his district school boards would want to designate armed administrators. His district includes all or part of Bibb, Houston, Jones, Twiggs, Wilkinson, Bleckley and Laurens counties. Talton said he does not think Houston, the only county in his district, would.

“I think any parent would feel safer” if trained administrators carried firearms at school, said state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, also a supporter of the bill. If such an administrator had been at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, he said, “maybe 20 kids would be alive.”

Rep. Nikki Randall, D-Macon, said, “I’m OK with it if the administrator is willing to take the training … and feels (carrying a gun) is necessary.”

But retired Henry County school Superintendent Herb Garrett said he thinks it’s risky to put weapons in the hands of administrators.

“I would never recommend that to a school board,” he said.

There is too much risk of something going wrong if a principal, for example, gets in a physical situation such as breaking up a fight, he said.

To parents who would feel safer with armed guards in school, Garrett said, “I’d say let’s make sure the good guys are trained law enforcement officers,” not administrators.

State Sen. Lester Jackson, D-Savannah, also said he prefers depending on trained law enforcement for school safety.

“School counselors, school principals, school administrators are trained to teach our children,” he said. “That should be their first and primary focus,” he said, adding that any other responsibility “dilutes” that mission.

Any legislation passed during the legislative session would need the governor’s signature. It’s not clear what Gov. Nathan Deal thinks about the proposal. His office said he does not comment on pending legislation.

No committee hearing has yet been set for the bill.

It’s not just Georgia addressing guns at school. A similar bill in Colorado would allow school boards to set policies to allow school employees to pack on campus.

Georgia House Bill 35, authored by state Rep. Paul Battles, R-Cartersville, is the narrowest of gun legislation that has been filed so far. It does not address what would happen if a school board approves administrators to carry guns on school campuses, but administrators oppose it.

House Bill 29, pushed by freshman state Rep. Charles Gregory, R-Kennesaw, would repeal laws limiting the right to carry arms on college campuses. No other legislators signed his bill when it was filed.

But tighter gun laws likely will be proposed during this session as well. For one, state Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, said he is drafting legislation that would speak to banning assault rifles, limiting clip size and requiring background checks on firearms sales at gun shows.