These debates cover a wide range of political topics from gun control to school safety, but it seems that regardless of politics and party lines, everyone agrees some change needs to be made.
This national conversation reached Alabama state legislators Wednesday, Jan. 9 in the form of a Joint Legislative Hearing on School Security and Teacher and Student Safety.
“We must also do everything in our power to protect Alabama teachers and students from the traumas and horrors experienced firsthand in Newtown,” said Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) in a press release before the session. “There is absolutely nothing more important that the safety of our students and teachers, particularly in a place where they should always feel safe, our schools.”
Though representatives gave many different opinions during the meeting, according to Rep. Terri Collins (R-Morgan), all seemed to have some variation of the NRA’s proposed “National School Shield” in mind.
This proposal, created by NRA Vice President Wayne LaPierre, aims to put an armed resource officer in every public school nation-wide. Collins said most state legislators agree with this measure and would even like to see on-staff mental health professionals at every school as well.
Rep. Mike Ball (R-Madison), a law enforcement veteran, sees a “tactical problem” with the current proposal.
“The problem is that a gunman who knows the school will target security guards first,” Ball said.
Instead, Ball said he believes that well-trained plainclothes volunteers serving in “Air Marshal” type roles would alleviate that concern.
Bell also said he supports training and arming teachers on a volunteer basis.
Another difficulty with the plan is its cost of execution.
One person speaking out against the cost is Rep. Johnny Morrow (D-Colbert, Franklin).
Morrow said he believes the price tag, which he estimates to be around $50 million, is too high and plans to put forward his own bill.
Morrow’s bill, unanimously ratified by a collection of local law enforcement and school officials on Thursday, would also allow teachers and volunteers to act as armed school security, but with the caviat that only reserve police officers and military personnel would be able to volunteer.
Morrow’s plan also includes a process of screening applicants through the local Sheriff’s department and school superintendants.
Though screening, training and equipping this school security force would involve heavy costs, Morrow said it would still be less than posting resource officers to every school.
Others, like Collins, disagree with the idea of arming teachers as a first resort.
“We already place a huge burden on our teachers,” Collins said. “Do we want to place that burden, that decision to take another person’s life, on top of that?”
This issue hits especially close to home for Collins, whose daughter is a P.E. teacher.
Even with details that still need fine-tuning and a deep divide on whether or not to arm teachers, members who attended the session agreed that it was a step in the right direction.
“Overall, it was a very positive meeting,” said Sen. Phil Williams (R-Cherokee, Etowah), who stressed the involvement of several experts in law enforcement and education.
It seems that for now, the National School Shield, or variations thereof, will be Alabama’s response to the mass shootings in Connecticut.