Discussion on Guns in Schools is Far from Over
The third and final public listening session on whether or not to allow employees to carry firearms at school facilities in Campbell County drew quite a crowd last night. More than two dozen people voiced their opinion on the matter, which was more people than both previous meetings combined.
Of the 26 people who chose to comment, 16 spoke in favor of arming school staff, eight spoke against it, and one was still undecided. Taking all three sessions into account, public opinion on the subject appears to be evenly split.
Deputy Superintendent Kirby Eisenhauer, who facilitated all three listening sessions, thanked those who attended and expressed their opinions. He said the comments, although passionate, were all respectful.
Gillette Police Cpl. Jay Johnson, who was part of the listening panel during the first two sessions, instead chose last night to speak, both as a school resource officer and a father in favor of arming school staff.
“It’s not for everyone,” Johnson said of carrying concealed firearms on school grounds, “but there’s one for everywhere.”
Johnson was among the three current Gillette police officers who spoke in favor of moving forward with the policy.
Only staff who volunteer to be armed would be considered if the policy were to be enacted. They would then be subject to all the training and requirements necessary to obtain a concealed carry permit as outlined by state statute.
Ernie Bishop, minister at the Church of Christ, also spoke in favor of arming school staff and said there are most likely people with the necessary skills or inclination who already work in the school district.
Parent Spring Wilkins, on the other hand, spoke against the policy, saying there’s no perfect answer but agreed that both sides had the same goal in mind: keeping kids in schools safe.
Wilkins shared that organizations such as the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, and the U.S. Department of Education do not support arming school staff. She also pointed out that it was an unarmed civilian that was able to intervene and diffuse a tense situation at Sage Valley last November when a student brought two handguns into the school.
Duncan Davidson, a 15-year-old Sage Valley student, spent two-and-a-half hours locked down at the junior high during the crisis and shared that he was scared for his life. He said arming school staff would “protect us more effectively.”
“It doesn’t end tonight,” Eisenhauer said of the discussion the sessions have prompted.
Much like Campbell County, other districts around the state are debating whether to arm school staff.
Wyoming State Statute 21-3-132 took effect July 1, 2017, and other districts were more prompt to act.
According to Wyoming Public Media, Unita County School District #1 approved moving forward with arming school staff in just two months and Park County School District #6 took more than eight months to make the decision.
State Superintendent Jillian Balow made it clear that the decision is up to that particular school district, and that the Department of Education is taking a neutral position.
“While the Department of Education does not have rulemaking authority related to this law, we felt it would be beneficial to work with interested stakeholders to answer any questions the new law presents,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow wrote in the School Safety and Security Non-regulatory Guidebook released in September 2017.
In Campbell County, the next step in the process will be for the members of the district’s crisis committee, who sat on the listening panel, to share what they learned at the three sessions with the school board.
Eisenhauer said the district will also pursue other methods to gather public input, including a possible survey.
“We’re all here because we care about kids,” Eisenhauer reiterated.
Should the school board decide to move forward with creating a policy that would allow school staff to carry concealed firearms at school facilities, the process would include additional public hearings as the policy is written.
At this time, there’s no set timeline for when the school board is expected to make a decision.