New York lawmakers are hoping to close the state’s loophole that gives school districts broad authority to arm teachers.
If Senate Bill 101A passes, New York would join the small handful of states – which includes California, North Dakota and Tennessee (with some local exceptions) — that have laws explicitly banning teachers or school staff from being armed at schools. The bill is headed to the floor for consideration by the full Senate on Tuesday.
“The response to school shootings has been to arm teachers. I think that’s the exact opposite approach we should be taking,” state Sen. Todd Kaminsky, the Nassau County Democrat who sponsored the bill, told VICE News. “We can’t turn our whole society into an armed camp. I think that’s misguided.”
Under law in New York State law, school districts can decide to allow staff to be armed, “but we’re not aware of any districts where that’s going on,” Robert Lowry Jr., deputy director for advocacy, research and communications at New York State’s Superintendents Association, told VICE News.
If the bill passes, however, that aspect of “local control” will be superseded by state law.
School districts in at least 21 states, New York included, enjoy expansive local control, which is a government and education philosophy that says local officials are best situated to make important decisions about schools and students. In those states, school boards can choose to arm teachers (though in many states, officials told VICE News they weren’t aware of any that were doing so).
A VICE News investigation found that at least 215 school districts had moved to arm teachers or school staff in the year since last February’s shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, bringing the total number of districts nationwide with such policies to 466. The idea of arming teachers began on the fringes of the national conversation after the 1999 school shooting in Columbine and started catching on after the shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school in 2012. In the wake of Parkland, which left 17 dead, President Donald Trump offered a full-throated endorsement of the idea of arming teachers.
For school districts that are rural or low on resources, arming teachers or school staff can seem like an easy and inexpensive solution to the school safety issue. Kaminsky says it’s on state legislators to give schools what they need so that they don’t have to resort to arming their teachers. “Many schools are turning to arming teachers, and I understand why they want to,” said Kaminsky. “We have a chance to step up our budgets, and make sure schools have the means to harden their infrastructure.” Infrastructure “hardening” includes things like installing bulletproof glass and better security systems.
Kaminsky’s bill is part of a larger package of gun control proposals that Democrats expect to sail through, after they regained control of the legislature in November for the first time in a decade. Efforts in previous years to push through gun control bills have been thwarted by state Republicans. According to the New York Daily News, the last time the state legislature passed a gun control bill was in 2013, in response to the Sandy Hook shooting, which left 20 young children and 6 teachers dead. The so-called SAFE act, among other things, created a three-day waiting period for firearm purchases.
The legislative package to be voted on Tuesday also includes proposals to ban bump stocks, expanding background check periods, and introducing a “red flag” bill, which aims to temporarily confiscate guns from people considered a risk of doing harm to themselves or someone else.
Cover: In this May 9, 2016, file photo, Democratic state Sen. Todd Kaminsky speaks during a news conference at the state Capitol in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll, File)