After contradictory votes, school districts get clearance for licenses to arm staff on campus | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

After contradictory votes, school districts get clearance for licenses to arm staff on campus

Posted By and on Wed, Sep 11, 2013 at 12:20 PM

click to enlarge NOT ALLOWED: The photo was taken of practice weapons at Clarksville schools back when the district hoped to license staff to carry weapons in classes. - COURIER NEWS
  • Courier News
  • NOT ALLOWED: The photo was taken of practice weapons at Clarksville schools back when the district hoped to license staff to carry weapons in classes.

The Arkansas Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies is meeting this morning to hear appeals from Clarksville and Lake Hamilton that they continue to be allowed to have employees licensed as security guards for the purpose of having a gun on campus.

A handful of districts have availed themselves of this loophole to the prohibition of guns on campus. But an attorney general's opinion this year said the law didn't allow it and the licenses were suspended. Some districts get people qualified, but keep weapons in a locked place. Clarksville wanted to put 20 people with concealed weapons in its five schools.

Schools may hire outside law enforcement as "resource officers" and they may carry guns, but school districts have said this is too expensive. Lake Hamilton said, however, that its two full-time officers — private security employed by the district and not regular law officers —- cost almost $45,000 a year each.

David Koon is on hand and will report. Clarksville is arguing for a grandfather rule. Let it and others keep existing licenses, but grant no more. I don't think you can grandfather law violations, however.

UPDATE: The Board voted to revoke both Clarksville's and Lake Hamilton's previous licenses. The vote was 3-2 on Clarksville, with an abstention from a member who wasn't present for the beginning of the debate. Lake Hamilton's long status prompted a great deal of discussion and efforts to cut it some slack, but ultimately its permits also were revoked 3-2.

Legislators and school officials have said they'll seek a solution for schools that want to have armed staff in the legislative session if necessary. Lake Hamilton said it's a 20-minute response time to school for regular police agencies and many people live in their district because they feel secure. One armed security guard is on duty at all hours. There's a team of three to five others on campus who have commissions, but their guns are kept in a locked "response" office.

Defenders of gun use argued that the law prevented taking back a privilege previously granted. But the attorney general's office countered that wasn't so. The districts can't be punished for past actions, but the licenses can be revoked, he said.

RELATED POINT: The gun proponents are arguing for the schools to arm in the name of "local control." But the most ardent gun proponents passed — and continue to defend — an NRA-backed state law that strips home rule on gun laws from local governments. What they really mean is they want local control only when it equates to more guns.

UPDATE II: A wrinkle: The Board voted 3-2 not to revoke a commission for Cutter-Morning Star. The difference was that board member Jason Curtis of Ashdown, a police sergeant, had not participated in the Clarksville and Lake Hamilton votes, which ended 2—2, but the chairman broke the tie to revoke their permits. He voted not to revoke and, thus in a 3-2 vote, Cutter was allowed to keep a permit for two years. This happened even though all board members, including Curtis, agreed that school districts were not private businesses and thus, under a strict reading of the law, not allowed to have staff licensed as security guards.  Assistant Attorney KaTina Hodge observed that the vote was inconsistent with what was done on Clarksville and Lake Hamilton. 

Cutter Superintendent Nancy Anderson said the district was too poor to contract with a law agency for security. She said it wasn't fair her district couldn't take up security on its own when others could afford to pay. She said she's no hero, but she and others would run to protect students with guns if a threat emerged. "I'd rather have something other than a stapler to throw at somebody with a gun."

GUNS, NOT STAPLERS: Cutter-Morning Star Supt. Nancy Anderson
  • GUNS, NOT STAPLERS: Cutter-Morning Star Supt. Nancy Anderson

Board member Curtis, who abstained on Lake Hamilton because he hadn't heard the whole debate, had nonetheless remarked during the discussion that "there is the intent of the law and there is the letter of the law." He asked the board to consider the "common sense" of taking away permits previously granted. "I'd much rather see the safety of the students taken into consideration," he said.

The contradictory vote immediately raised equal protection issues.

UPDATE III: The attorney general's office said the board can rescind its earlier votes and reconsider Lake Hamilton and Clarksville. If that happens and Curtis votes as he's indicated, all would receive 3-2 approval because there'd be no tie and Chairman Ralph Sims' vote — which went against the permits — would not be necessary.

UPDATE IV: It's happening. Clarksville got a 3-2 vote that cleared revocation of its permit. By a similar vote, the board rescinded its earlier suspension of Clarksville's 14 permits (six more were in the pipeline but withdrawn). And, finally, by the same 3-2 vote, it gave Clarksville the same privilege it had earlier given Cutter-Morning Star — two-year licensure with revocation at the end if the legislature doesn't act to clarify the situation. Shortly after, the board did the same series of 3-2 votes for Lake Hamilton.

UPDATE V: With the issue resolved, the board consolidated other pending appeals. Suspensions were lifted and two-year extensions were given to Ashdown, Concord, Lee County, Little Rock, Nettleton, Poyen, Pulaski County, Texarkana, Westside and Fort Smith. Several of these districts get permits years ago but don't use them, including Little Rock and Pulaski County, to arm staff members. Vote 4-1.

Those with permits now have essentially been grandfathered for two years. The Board voted unanimously to accept no more applications for licensure of staff members to carry guns. Thus, if there is a building desire for armed school staff members, legislative action WILL be required.

Jack Acre of Little Rock led the opposition to approving permits for school staff members. He was joined by Joey Smith of Searcy in the 2-2 votes where Chairman Sims joined them. The three votes for allowing guns were Curtis, Jess Odom of Searcy and Davis Orsburn of Cotter. Sheriff James Shourd of Searcy was absent.

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