During a press conference at Austin Road Elementary School in Winder, Georgia, on Oct. 25, Republican Lt. Gov. Burt Jones unveiled a controversial proposal aimed at incentivizing teachers to carry firearms in schools. Under this plan, Jones suggested paying teachers an annual stipend of $10,000 to participate in firearms training programs and receive a training certificate to carry guns, as reported by AP News.
The proposal also emphasizes strengthening the existing school safety plans, introducing stricter standards, and increasing funding to enable schools to hire certified school resource officers. School resource officers, who typically receive salaries and benefits exceeding $80,000, play a crucial role in ensuring security within educational institutions.
Jones defended the proposal, saying it was a proactive approach to enhancing school safety and reducing the risk of shootings. The idea of arming teachers with guns has been a subject of hot debate, with former President Donald Trump and other proponents asserting that gun-free school zones are more vulnerable to armed assailants.
However, the proposal has faced opposition from various quarters. Lisa Morgan, president of the Georgia Association of Educators, strongly disagreed with the notion of anyone other than certified officers carrying firearms in schools, emphasizing the need for counselors and mental health interventions as more appropriate solutions to violence in schools.
Critics of the proposal also voiced concerns about the necessity of extensive training for individuals to use firearms effectively in emergency situations. There is also a history of trained police officers accidentally discharging firearms in schools.
The proposal has found approval within the educational system, including Barrow County Superintendent Chris McMichael, who voiced his support for increased funding to employ certified school resource officers. However, McMichael also noted that the arming of other school employees would require careful examination by the school board.
Barrow County Sheriff Jud Smith expressed enthusiasm for the proposal, referring to armed teachers as potential “force multipliers” in the event of a shooting.
The Professional Association of Georgia Educators, the largest teacher group in the state, called for the integration of school safety funding into the state’s school funding formula to ensure consistent financial support year after year. The group emphasized that the highest priorities should be placed on mental health interventions, increased school resource officers, and improved safety plans.
Since 2014, Georgia has allowed local school boards to authorize trained individuals, who are not police officers, to carry firearms in schools, including teachers. However, it remains unclear how many districts have implemented this policy. Several school districts permit non-officers to carry firearms, with the policy typically applying to security personnel without police certification, excluding teachers.
Jones and his supporters underscored that the proposed program would be entirely voluntary, with teachers not obligated to participate. Teachers would be allowed to carry firearms only in districts where the local school board approves the program.
State Sen. Max Burns, a Republican from Sylvania, Georgia, who plans to sponsor the legislation in 2024, affirmed that the proposal does not entail mandates but rather offers local school boards the flexibility to tailor programs according to their unique circumstances.
As the debate unfolds, it remains unclear whether other prominent Republicans will endorse Jones’ proposed legislation. A spokesperson for the state House Speaker Jon Burns stated that Burns had not yet reviewed the plan. The governor’s office offered no comment, and State Superintendent Richard Woods did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The inspiration for Jones’ program was drawn from a similar proposal in Texas, although the Texas plan did not pass. The Texas proposal sought to provide an additional $25,000 annually to teachers who completed firearms and mental health training and first aid courses. This initiative arose in response to a 2022 shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where a gunman took the lives of 19 fourth-graders and two teachers. Instead of the proposed plan, Texas mandated that each school campus must have a certified officer, a requirement Texas schools have found challenging to fulfill due to financial constraints and a shortage of police officers.