Pa. Senate committee approves guns-in-schools bill

Thursday marks 18 years since the Columbine High School massacre. You may remember two students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, shot and killed 12 classmates and one teacher before taking their own lives.

Wednesday in Harrisburg, the Pennsylvania Senate Education Committee voted 9-3 to give school districts the option of letting school staffers carry weapons. (Click to see how the senators on the committee voted.)

Senate Bill 383's sponsor -- Sen. Donald White of Indiana County, which is more than an hour east of Pittsburgh -- wrote before submitting it, "I believe we must look at all options when it comes to improving the safety and security of our children, teachers and school staff."

The bill's short title is "An Act amending the act of March 10, 1949 (P.L.30, No.14), known as the Public School Code of 1949, in duties and powers of boards of school directors, providing for protection and defense of pupils."

On Jan. 13, Sen. White wrote a memo to all Senate members, titled School Safety Options.

He announced he was reintroducing a bill from last year "to clarify the authority school boards have to allow certain school employees to carry firearms on school property to further enhance security measures."

Sen. White wrote the problem is "The PA Crimes Code is unclear on the possession of a weapon at school, which includes a 'firearm, shotgun or rifle.' Under this section there is a defense for a weapon that is "possessed and used in conjunction with a lawful supervised school activity or course or is possessed for other lawful purpose."

He said the Department of Education considers "other lawful purpose" to be "unclear and unsettled, especially as it relates to school employees and parents (or citizens) possessing a weapon on school property."

Therefore, the senator wrote, "I plan to introduce legislation to clear up the uncertainty in the law and establish a framework to serve as guidance for school districts. My bill would allow school personnel to have access to firearms in school safety zones if they receive authorization from the school board of directors, are licensed to carry a concealed firearm and have met certain training requirements in the use and handling of firearms (as outlined in my proposal). This legislation will not mandate a school's participation, but will give school boards the ability to establish policy and put in place protocols needed to enable personnel to exercise their ability to access a firearm on designated school property."

Also, "As we weigh our options, I believe we need to consider providing school employees with more choices than just locking a door, hiding in a closet or diving in front of bullets to protect students. With the legal authority, licensing and proper training, I believe allowing school administrators, teachers or other staff to carry firearms on the school premises is an option worth exploring."

Finally, "This bill will provide another option for schools -- especially those in rural areas -- by providing a quick response to school shootings and improving the safety and security of our children, teachers and school staff."

Click here for the full text of the bill.