COLUMBIA - Data provided to KOMU 8 News show weapons offenses accounted for less than one-half of one percent of suspensions and expulsions in Missouri schools last year.
According to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which tracks disciplinary problems, there were about 1,500 suspensions and expulsions for weapons-related offenses in schools last year, accounting for 0.45 percent of the nearly 344,000 such actions recorded. For comparison, there were more than 3,600 suspensions for drug-related offenses and 4,300 for tobacco in Missouri schools during the same period. The percentage of weapons-related disciplinary actions was even lower in Columbia, with 28 out of a total of more than 10,600 such actions. State law mandates any student who brings a weapon of any kind to school be suspended or expelled.
Nevertheless, at least four Missouri legislators have introduced legislation aimed specifically at preventing a school shooting like that in Newtown, Conn. last December. These bills include:
• House Bill 70, permitting teachers to carry concealed weapons
• House Bill 276, permitting teachers to carry concealed weapons and act as school protection officers after receiving basic training
• Senate Bill 75, requiring all schools to hold annual active shooter training sessions and teach the NRA's "Eddie Eagle" gun safety program to first graders
• Senate Bill 124, requiring any parents who own a gun or guns to disclose this fact to school districts
There have been at least four school shootings in Missouri's history, mostly in the St. Louis area. In 1983, a Parkway South Middle School student killed one fellow pupil and wounded another before turning the gun on himself. Four years later, a DeKalb, Mo. student shot and killed a classmate and himself. A St. Louis-area Sumner High School student was shot and killed in a hallway in 1993. Most recently, on Jan. 15 of this year, a gunman wounded the director of financial aid at the Stevens Institute of Business & Arts. By comparison, the Highway Patrol reports there were three homicides in Columbia in 2012 alone. Cole County Sheriff Greg White said, on a day-to-day basis, schools are by far the safest place for children.
"You are far more likely to get hurt going to the mall than at school," White said.
Lawmakers' opinions vary on the proposals that have been put forth, and some of their concerns cross party lines. Rep. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, told KOMU 8 News he doesn't think allowing teachers to carry concealed weapons in the classroom, as HB 70 would do, is sufficient. He said teachers should be provided training for close-quarters combat scenarios similar to the ones they would encounter with active shooters. Brattin's bill, HB 276, would do that. Meanwhile, Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis, said he thought a program such as the NRA's Eddie Eagle Gunsafe Program to educate children about the dangers of guns is a good idea. Colona drew the line at concealed carry, saying that decision should be left up to school districts. He said allowing teachers in his district to carry concealed weapons would be a bad idea.
Rep. Stacey Newman, D-St. Louis, said she opposed concealed carry for teachers as well as mandating shooter or gun safety training. She said decisions about school security should be left up to individual school districts. Newman said the main thing the state legislature can do to prevent mass shootings is to tighten gun laws, such as banning assault weapons and requiring all firearm purchases to go through a federally-licensed dealer. Newman is sponsoring a bill that would mandate the latter.
Current state law says relatively little about school security. Missouri's conceal and carry law forbids carrying a concealed weapon in a school "without the consent of the governing body of the higher education institution or a school official or the district school board." Lawmakers from both parties say this means school districts already have the authority to allow teachers to carry concealed weapons. HB 70 would allow teachers statewide to carry a concealed weapon without first obtaining the consent currently required.
Democrats and Republicans agree that financial concerns are the number one obstacle any new security idea must overcome. Rep. Mike Kelley, the Lamar Republican sponsoring HB 70, said measures from bulletproof glass to school resource officers would most likely require a tax increase, something he doubts voters would approve. Colona echoed Kelley's financial concerns, but added that talking about the issue and coming up with new crisis-management plans doesn't cost anything.
All of the firearms-related legislation currently facing the general assembly, including the proposals dealing with schools, are either in committee or have yet to reach this stage.