Published Wednesday, February 13, 2013
BY RAY HENRY
ATLANTA (AP) – School employees in Georgia could not be required to carry a firearm and would face rules over how that gun is stored under a changed plan debated Tuesday by state lawmakers.
A House committee gave its approval to changed legislation from Rep. Paul Battles, R-Cartersville. It sought to answer questions raised by his initial proposal to arm school administrators that came after a gunman rampaged through a Connecticut school on Dec. 14, killing six adults and 20 first-graders. His bill now heads to the House Rules Committee, which decides whether it gets a floor vote.
"This is another deterrent," Battles said. "I see this bill as more of way of saying, `You're going to find some resistance from coming into our Georgia schools.'"
A tight budget leaves the state little room to pay for more armed police officers in schools, Battles said. He estimated paying for an officer would cost each school around $80,000 to $85,000 when accounting for salary and benefits. He described his plan to arm school employees as an affordable alternative.
"It's kind of taking the best choice of all the bad ones," he said.
Under the revised plan, local school boards would be allowed to designate any employee - not just administrators - to carry guns in school. No employee could be punished if they refused to participate.
The new version would also require that firearms be kept on the authorized school employee or in a secured box so students or other unauthorized people cannot take them, Battles said. No school system could be held legally liable for their decision to either arm or not arm their workers.
But school employees and their districts could still be held legally responsible is a shooting is determined to be unjustified.
Lawmakers would require that anyone with a gun in school first get a license to carry a concealed weapon, get legal training on self-defense laws and prove they can properly identify and shoot a target. The latest version of the legislation allows schools boards to decide what type of weapons their employees carry and even how much ammunition.
Employees who have showed signs of mental or emotional instability could not be armed in school, though the decisions on whether an employee should be disqualified would rest with local school officials. At a minimum, school boards would be responsible for conducting an annual criminal background check on any school employee allowed to carry a gun.
School officials could conduct additional background checks at their discretion. A formal version of the amended bill was still being drafted Tuesday night.
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