Democrats reject proposal to arm school teachers


The House Judiciary Committee voted down H.B. 1157 on Tuesday after several hours of testimony in the Old Supreme Court chamber at the Capitol.

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DENVER -- For the second day in a row, Colorado Democrats voted down a GOP-sponsored bill related to guns after another lengthy hearing.

On a 7-4 party-line vote, the House Judiciary Committee rejected House Bill 1157, which would have allowed all school districts and charter school boards to let licensed teachers and school staffers to carry concealed weapons in classrooms, a measure that highlighted a clear urban-rural divide.

Gun control advocates, who want fewer firearms in schools, not more, again packed the hearing room at the Capitol Tuesday, intent on demonstrating strength -- and staunch opposition to the proposal to allow willing teachers and school staffers to serve as a first line of defense in the instance of a school shooting.

"We have officers who are trained in responding to these incidents, and now we're adding to that people who don't have that training," said Michael Eaton, the chief of security for Denver Public Schools. "In this bill, there's no requirement for the type of training they have to have.

"This bill would allow school boards to give a staffer or teacher the ability to carry a firearm with no range training requirement, no training on how to secure their firearm, no training on how to properly handle that weapon when you're dealing with children."

Supporters of the proposal, brought by Rep. Steve Humphrey, R-Severance, argue that it will help small, rural school districts, which often can't afford to hire School Resource Officers, and charter schools, which are prohibited from doing so under state law.

"This is not a mandate; we're not forcing districts to do this," Humphrey said. "This simply allows the charter school or district to adopt these policies if that's something that the community is comfortable with."

To Humphrey, it's a matter of local control -- allowing educators in more rural areas to determine the best policy for keeping schoolkids safe.

Jeffrey Hare, a charter school board member who actually ran against Humphrey for his House seat in 2012, agreed and testified in support of the proposal.

"We have someone we'd like to hire to do this," Hare said.  "But state law says we can't. A very quick response to an incident is what's necessary to minimize the impact."

In addition to Eaton, Democrats brought forth a stream of people opposed to the bill, ranging from a representative of the state's largest teachers' union and many individual teachers to a group of moms who have become gun control activists and a group of students from Denver's East High School.

"Teachers have an overload of daily requirements," said Esther Macalady, a teacher. "Most teachers do no want the added responsibility of securing a gun."

After watching last year's gun control push galvanize conservatives and gun owners, a few thousand of whom flocked to the Capitol to protest, and watching the recall elections and short-lived secession movement that followed, Democrats are intent on demonstrating strong public support for those new laws and for its general position on gun issues.

Conversely, the relative drop in the number of Second Amendment activists at the Capitol for this year's hearings of gun-related proposals seems to indicate either a slight cooling of passions or, more likely, a complete loss of faith in appealing to a Democrat-controlled legislature.

After all the supporters of the proposal had finished testifying, the committee continued to hear from the bill's opponents for another two hours as gun control advocates -- even knowing the committee's vote was likely to go their way -- pressed their points.

"We want to keep our kids safe," said Jennifer Hope with Moms Demand Action. "Adding more guns to the equation isn't the answer."

"We need more counselors in our schools, not more guns," said Jackie Shumway, a long-time area educator.

Karina Vargas, who testified in support of most of the gun control bills Democrats passed last year, rolled her wheelchair to the front of the chamber to tell her story once again.

"I was the unintended victim of a drive-by shooting," said Vargas, who was shot outside her high school. "To think that a teacher with a gun could have protected me from the shooting is absolutely crazy. And if a teacher was there with a gun not knowing who was responsible for the shooting, there could have been more victims or even fatalities."

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