The Slatest

Arkansas School District Takes Page From NRA’s Playbook, Will Arm Teachers and Staff

An National Rifle Association (NRA) convention goer picks up a Ruger 1911 model .45 semi-auto gandgun at the NRA Annual Convention May 4, 2013 in Houston, Texas

Photo by Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

An Arkansas school district is taking a page straight from the NRA’s playbook, arming more than 20 teachers and staff members this fall in response to what administrators say was an overwhelming number of complaints from parents worried in the wake of Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy. Here’s the Associated Press with the details from Clarksville (pop. 9,200), located about a 90-minute drive from Little Rock:

[M]ore than 20 teachers, administrators and other school employees in this town … will carry concealed weapons throughout the school day, making use of a little-known Arkansas law that allows licensed, armed security guards on campus. After undergoing 53 hours of training, [the] teachers at the school will be considered guards. …

In strongly conservative Arkansas, where gun ownership is common and gun laws are permissive, no school district had ever used the law to arm teachers on the job, according to the state Department of Education. The closest was the Lake Hamilton School District in Garland County, which for years has kept several guns locked up in case of emergency. Only a handful of trained administrators — not teachers — have access to the weapons. … State officials are not blocking Clarksville’s plan, but Arkansas Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell is opposed to the idea of arming teachers and staff. He prefers to hire law enforcement officers as school resource officers.

The employees who sign up for the program receive a one-time $1,100 stipend to purchase a gun and holster. The district is also paying another $50,000 to cover ammunition and private instruction from a local firearms training facility, although it is unclear if that figure includes the regular training refreshers the staff will be required to undergo. The 53-hour up-front training program falls roughly in the middle of the 40-60 hours recommended by an NRA-fund task force earlier this year.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the Clarksville School District had the full-time equivalent of just shy of 360 staff members (including 175 classroom teachers) in its five individual schools during the 2011-2012 school year, the most recent available data from the center. While the district isn’t saying which staff members will be armed, a little back-of-the-envelope math suggests that there will be an average of more than four adults carrying a concealed weapon in each of the schools, the largest of which was Pyron Elementary School, which had a total of roughly 650 second-, third-, and fourth-graders at last count. (Or, if you prefer to breakdown concealed weapons by student, the math works out to about one armed adult for every 125 kids.)

While Clarksville is using the guard classification to work around state law, several other states have passed legislation clearing the way for teachers and staff to arm themselves. Those efforts, as the New York Times explained earlier this month, however, have run into a major hurdle in the form of insurance companies.

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This post was updated with additional information about similar efforts in other states.