A bill to fund optional firearm training for teachers passed the Indiana House of Representatives Monday night, with a vote of 72-25.
Rep. Jim Lucas (R-Seymour) wrote the bill to create a voluntary 39.5-hour handgun training program for teachers and school staff, and use state funds to pay for it. Lucas says the program was specifically designed to prepare teachers for a school shooting.
Under Indiana law, school districts can already approve teachers to carry a firearm, and the state does not require teachers to go through special handgun training. Several school districts have chosen to have firearms in their schools.
Lucas says the program is not meant to replace other preventive measures, like increased school security and mental health services.
“It just provides another tool in the toolbox in fighting the horrible issue and the possibility of a school shooting,” Lucas says. “It does not take away from the need to do other things.”
Several lawmakers testified against the bill during Monday’s hearing. Some say liability issues would be inevitable, some worry about the emotional impact on students, and some argue the training outlined in Lucas’ bill isn’t enough.
Rep. Tonya Pfaff (D-Terre Haute), a current educator, says she’s worried about students stealing weapons from teachers.
“We would not expect our police officers to teach algebra, that is not what they’ve spent their careers training to do,” Pfaff says. “Nor should we expect or want our teachers, with a little bit of training, to be the front line of defense.”
Lucas filed the legislation in part because of a law enforcement report out of Florida that recommends arming teachers, conducted after the school shooting in Parkland last year.
Lucas says the training would cost an estimated $1,500 to $2,000 per participant.
During the bill’s second reading last week, Rep. Chris Chyung (D-Dyer) proposed several amendments. They would have prevented the bill from using money from the Indiana Safe Schools Fund and excluded virtual schools teachers from receiving the training. The amendments did not pass.
During testimony, Chyung said it was hypocritical for lawmakers to worry about mental health efforts draining the school safety fund while supporting a firearms training bill that pulls from the same source.
“We were told that the funds are finite and we shouldn't be able to just tap into them for whatever we want,” Chyung said. “Then two weeks later, we were here voting to pay to arm teachers with that money.”
Another bill moving through the Statehouse, HB 1004, would allow school districts to use grants to fund school-based mental health services.
During public testimony at a committee hearing last week, the firearms training bill saw opposition from Moms Demand Action, the Indiana State Teachers Association and student activists from Noblesville. The bill garnered support from the National Rifle Association and the Indiana Small and Rural Schools Association.
Jay County Schools Superintendent Jeremy Gulley says as a rural school district he worries about police response times in the case of an active shooter. The district has approved keeping firearms in locked safes teachers can access.
"Indiana law permits school boards to do what we have done," Gulley says. "Some are considering doing so, more will do so after the next school shooting."
Indiana experienced two school shootings in 2018, and lawmakers have filed over two dozen bills targeting school safety.
The bill will now move to the Senate.
This article has been updated to reflect that Rep. Tonya Pfaff is a current teacher and not a former educator.