LITTLE ROCK — Responding to a recent attorney general’s opinion, a state regulatory board voted Wednesday to block teachers and staff at Arkansas schools from carrying guns on campus.
The state Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies voted to suspend all registrations it had approved previously for school employees to serve as armed security guards. The action came after Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said in an Aug. 1 advisory opinion that the board could not legally authorize school employees to carry guns on campus.
Over the years, about a dozen school districts have obtained registration for about 60 employees to serve as armed security. Most districts have armed or planned to arm only a few people, but the Clarksville School District received national attention when it recently trained about 20 teachers and staff members to serve as armed security.
McDaniel said in his non-binding opinion, which was requested by a state legislator, that because school districts are political subdivisions of the state, they do not qualify as private businesses that can authorize staff to carry guns. The seven-member board agreed.
"I think the opinion of the attorney general is right on the money," board member David Orsborn of Cotter said during Wednesday’s meeting.
At the prompting of a staff attorney, the board said it was acting to protect the health and safety of the public. It said the suspended registrations would be revoked after 60 days, but the affected people could request hearings before the board to present arguments against revocation.
Board member Jack Acre of Little Rock told reporters after the meeting that there were too many unanswered questions about arming school employees.
"Is the school going to be responsible for them? If one of them teachers accidentally shoots somebody, who’s going to be responsible?" he said.
Clarksville Superintendent David Hopkins attended Wednesday’s board meeting and told reporters he was disappointed with the decision. He said his district has spent about $70,000 to train and equip employees as security guards.
"Not having armed guards within our schools, at this point I think that is more of a danger than worrying about the public safety risk of us trying to have a guard program," he said.
Hopkins, who was one of the Clarksville district employees who received security training, said he would request a revocation hearing.
"At this point we’re going to stand down with that program and we’re going to allow the process to take place," he said.
Asked if he was considering legal action, Hopkins said district officials would look at their options after completing the hearing process.
Hopkins also said he has been talking with state legislators about possibly changing the law to state clearly that school districts are allowed to train and arm teachers and staff.
One of those legislators is Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, whose district includes Clarksville.
"I’m very, very disappointed in this panel," Stubblefield said Wednesday. "I think they made the wrong decision, and I think by doing so they put a lot of our children in an unsafe position."
Stubblefield said he would be willing to introduce legislation that would give school districts the option of arming employees.
"If I lived in that school district and I had a child, and I had a choice of putting my child with either a teacher that was armed or a teacher that wasn’t armed, I would put my child with that teacher that I knew had a gun. Because if that that teacher was willing to sacrifice their own life to protect my child, that tells me a whole lot about them," he said.