by Collin Reischman
Rep. Mike Kelley of district 127 pre-filed serveral bills, including HB 68, which would make October “Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month.” However, Kelley said the one that is getting the most attention is HB 70, which would amend Missouri state statue prohibiting concealed weapons in certain public places
“It’s a very rough draft,” Kelley said. “I wouldn’t vote for this right now, not as it is, because there are some amendments myself and others would like to put in it first.”
Kelley said the idea was to “get people talking,” about how to protect students in schools in the wake of perhaps the most jarring school shooting in history, the Sandy Hook massacre.
As it stands, the language adds 9 new words to 571.107 RSMo, which forbids conceal and carry weapons in polling places or police stations. Currently, the law forbids such weapons on school premises. The addition makes exception for schoolteachers or administrators, but makes no other requirements or clarifications.
Kelley said he’d like a higher degree of training required for teachers with weapons in schools, as well as a form of continuing gun education not unlike the regular tests and classes given to police officers.
“I don’t want every teacher to be armed,” Kelley said. “But I think if we require additional training at the onset, someone, a perpetrator, might think again if they know someone is going to be armed and if they know someone can confront them.”
Kelley told The Missouri Times that a part-time SWAT officer in his district, who also taught in a public school, was not allowed to bring his weapon into school, despite his training, and eventually quit teaching to be an officer full-time.
“We lost a very qualified teacher and someone who can protect our kids because of that,” Kelly said.
The bill has certainly sparked conversation among democrats and republicans alike. Jeanne Kirkton of district 91 opposes the measure, calling it “unnecessary.”
“The law right now, as it is, it says that a school board can give authorization for teachers or administrators with conceal and carry endorsements to bring weapons into school,” Kirkton said. “I have issue with a statewide measure to let schools do something that individual boards can already do.”
Kelley said most school boards in the state are unaware they have that authority, and the lack of awareness is part of the problem. Kirkton, on the other hand, said she would support the measure if it included an amendment allowing individual school districts to say “no” to the new policy. However, state pre-emption law regarding firearms concerns her.
This pre-emption means that no local authority may pass gun regulations stricter than those written into current state law, meaning any school board that did not want teachers to be armed would be unable to restrict them.
“I can understand in some places, where response times from police are maybe not as timely, I can understand supporting [HB 70],” Kirkton said. “But if a school wants to do that, the school board has that right. They have it, so why do we need a state statute to make it so?”
Kelley said he’d head from educators and constituents about arming teachers and administrators and that he’d received “considerably” more calls and emails in favor than in opposition to HB 70.
“There might be more guns than people in my district,” Kelley said. “There isn’t some magic bullet solution to gun violence. We need schools not to pass up students who are struggling just to help their self esteem, we need to emphasize reading, we need more open lines of communication at our schools and more secure families. But right now this is a step we can take, this can help fill that hole.”
While Kirkton said she’d feel uncomfortable with teachers in her school being armed, Kelley said he would feel more comfortable. Kelley, a gun-owner and enthusiast, has a conceal and carry endorsement and regularly carries his weapon on him in the Capitol building, which he is permitted to do as an elected member of the House.
Despite differences, they both agreed on one thing: HB 70 will probably pass the house. In the Senate, however, both Kirkton and Kelley agreed passage was far from a lock.