Kennewick state representative to propose arming teachers

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 11, 2013 

State Rep. Brad Klippert plans to introduce a bill during this year's legislative session to allow teachers and other school employees to carry a weapon at work.

The Kennewick Republican told the Herald on Thursday he hasn't drafted the bill yet, but he said no educator would be required to carry a firearm at school.

Klippert, a Benton County sheriff's deputy, said he wants to collaborate with recently elected state Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, who suggested similar legislation in late December.

"We've got a lot of work to do on this," Klippert said. The 2013 legislative session begins on Monday.

The proposal comes in the wake of last month's shooting massacre of grade-school students and teachers in Newtown, Conn.

Tri-City educators and law enforcement said Thursday they were hesitant at best when asked whether arming teachers is a good way to protect students.

"We do recognize that school safety can always be improved, but we need to have a well-thought out conversation," said Lorraine Cooper, spokeswoman for the Kennewick School District.

Klippert, who is a school resource officer at Kiona-Benton City High School and the district's middle school, said arming teachers might not be the best option for keeping schools safe, but there needs to be a conversation about what should be done.

He said some administrators have suggested to him that only administrators at schools without a school resource officer be allowed to carry a gun.

But, "there are teachers who have stated, not just here but elsewhere," that they would be interested in having a gun to protect themselves and their students, Klippert said.

The law he wants to draft would require any teacher wanting to have a weapon in the classroom to undergo a mental health evaluation and firearms training.

Pike could not be reached Thursday, but she has suggested in a Facebook post that teachers also would have to pay for their gun training, provide their own weapon and keep it on their person at all times.

Benton County Sheriff Steve Keane said he spoke with Klippert about the proposed legislation and credited him with starting a conversation about student safety.

However, Keane said he has mixed feelings about the proposal and that arming teachers should be a last resort. He said there are teachers who would be up to the task, but their job is to educate students.

"There's more to it than giving someone a 40-hour (firearms) class and a pistol," he said.

Keane and Klippert said they would rather see an armed law enforcement or security officer in every school to deter and stop violence, as recommended by the National Rifle Association. But there have been questions on how to pay for that.

"Certainly there are a lot of facets to this, there is a lot to do," said Cooper, with the Kennewick School District. "We want to make sure we come up with the best solution."

Officials with the Pasco and Richland school districts declined to talk about the issue Thursday.

Rich Wood, spokesman for the Washington Education Association, said the teachers' union supports the recommendations of the National Education Association, which include more background checks with gun purchases and stronger mental health care resources.

The NEA is in discussions with the national task force headed by Vice President Joe Biden.

"Putting guns in the classroom is not the solution," Wood said.

Jeri Morrow, president of the Richland Education Association, said her union has not discussed the issue but she doesn't think most teachers would support it.

"I wouldn't want my kids in a classroom with a teacher with a gun," she said.

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