COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio is only mere steps away from allowing adults to carry guns in schools with just two hours of hands-on firearm training.
Controversial House Bill 99 passed the Senate Wednesday 23-9. The bill already passed the House, despite the overwhelmingly negative testimonies from the public. The Senate made changes, clarifying some training requirements, and will return to the House for another vote.
It's been one week since the horrific mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. The massacre where 19 children and two teachers were killed has put a spotlight on Ohio's gun laws. State Rep. Thomas Hall, a Republican from Madison Township, said his bill may have helped prevent it.
"With House Bill 99, we're trying to get schools here in Ohio another option of school safety," the freshman lawmaker said. "I think House Bill 99 is a great answer and a great tool for schools here."
After a school shooting at Madison Junior-Senior High School in 2016, Madison Township decided to allow some of its teachers to be armed. Parents sued and the Ohio Supreme Court sided with them, saying state law says teachers must have extensive peace officer training (Peace Officer Basic Training Academy that is approved by the Ohio Peace Officer Training Commission, or OPOTC) or 20 years of experience as a peace officer.
Ben Adams, one of the parents who sued the district, is a firefighter paramedic who responded to the school the day of the shooting.
"I want to emphasize that I am not opposed to guns in general, I am a gun owner myself," Adams said. "It is abundantly clear to me that this is not the best path — this is not a well thought out plan. This is a path that leads to more weapons in untrained hands and that is a dangerous path."
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Hall's bill would challenge the 2021 Gabbard v. Madison Local School Dist. Bd. of Edn ruling.
"The Ohio Supreme Court made a terrible legal decision that would mandate that anyone who was armed to protect kids in schools would have to have the same exact training as a police officer, which, of course, involves training far beyond anything that has to do with the school," Rob Sexton, legislative affairs director for Buckeye Firearm Association, said.
For context, police get 60 hours of firearm training, with 46 of those hours being at a gun range. School resource officers get the same as police, but an additional 40 hours of training both inside and at the range.
Previously, armed teachers would have to become peace officers with more than 700 hours on average of educational courses and firearm training. H.B. 99 would make it significantly easier for adults in schools to carry guns, loosening the regulations by about 95%.
The bill would allow any adult in a school to carry a firearm with just two hours of hands-on training. Someone would only be required to complete 20 hours of training. Only two of those hours will the individual be holding or practicing with the gun.
Technically, there is no explicit direction that an 18-year-old student can't carry a gun — but that is because concealed firearms permits can only be given to those 21 and older. In the very rare likelihood that there is a 21-year-old student in high school, however, it is possible they could bring a gun.
Ohio is now a permitless carry state, which means there will no longer be additional training, background check and a permit for gun owners required to bring a firearm in most places. Permitless carry goes into effect on June 13, 2022. Despite that, the license would still be necessary for schools and for cross-state travel, according to Sexton.
"The bill stipulates concealed handgun license plus 20 hours, so that would be the standard for training for school," the lobbyist added.
In its early hearings, around 15 supported the bill, while more than 215 testified against it. The opponents include the Ohio Education Association (OEA), the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio (FOP) and Ohio Federation of Teachers' Melissa Cropper.
"Our fear is that the Legislature will use this as an excuse to push House Bill 99, which we think is absolutely the wrong approach to take for dealing with gun violence in our schools," Cropper said.
The lawmakers who are pushing for guns in schools are the ones who are cutting funding for the programs they actually need, she said.
"What we need to be doing is doubling down on services to help students deal with social-emotional issues, that deal with anger management, that help students with the stress that they have in their lives so that we can prevent some of these situations from happening and start with," she said.
Putting the responsibility of carrying a gun in a school on a teacher isn't fair. They already have to do that job, plus work as a counselors, sometimes be a parent and act as a nurse. Having to also be the classroom savior is overwhelming, and something that shouldn't be happening anyway, the educator added.
Schools need adequate funding, Cropper, OEA and FOP said.
"What price do you want to put on child safety — with a janitor running around with a firearm?" Michael Weinman, with FOP, said. "There's always some sort of partnership you can do with the sheriff's office or local police agencies. You know where you can share that cost and work things out. There's been bills that you can have a levy specifically for the schools to have school resource officers."
The Justice Department is now reviewing the police response to the Uvalde shooting. Law enforcement officers are facing national scrutiny for allegedly standing outside for nearly an hour without doing anything during the massacre.
This helps raise a point for Hall and Sexton's claims that if teachers had guns, they could approach the shooter. Cropper said it would actually do the opposite.
If police aren't even going into an active-shooter scene, despite that being part of their job description, why should educators?
"I don't think there's any validity in saying that if teachers carry guns in schools that would be able to prevent something like this from happening or even minimize the amount of damage has done for something like this happening," she said. "I don't think we have any evidence that supports that."
"The truth of the matter is, when you have an active shooter in this type of situation, nothing is going to stop active shooter before lives are lost. We need to be more on the preventative side instead of trying to be guns with guns."
Educators, if completed training, are allowed to carry guns in schools, according to Texas state law.
"I believe Texas does have an armed staff policy," Hall said. "I haven't looked into that, I do want to look into that in the next few days to see what they have."
Hall said if people don't like the bill, they don't have to have it.
"The bill is not for every school in Ohio, that's why we made it a permissive bill, setting that minimum, but not maximum amount of training, leaving that up to the local school boards," he added.
However, it is unclear what he means by not having a maximum amount of training. The way the bill is written, it states that "the number of hours of training shall not exceed two hours," when referring to the hands-on firearm training. The same is included with the 18 hours of general training.
Another problem with the bill, educators and police said, is that there is no lockbox requirement and there is nothing in the bill that addresses what happens to the gun when the individual leaves school.
An analysis showed Ohio legislators are currently considering nearly 30 bills regarding firearm access. There are 29 in total — 13 Republican-proposed, and 16 Democrat-proposed.
- Republican bills expand gun rights, Democratic ones put forward safety regulations.
- Republican bills get heard, Democratic ones don't.
- Only one Democratic bill was heard in committee. It received one hearing more than a year ago.
- All but one Republican bill had numerous hearings, with the exception of a void bill that didn't need to be heard with the passage of SB 215, permitless carry. The unheard bill is new, referred to committee on May 17, but will most likely continue the trend of having a hearing.
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