HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Teachers, principals, and other school officials would be allowed to carry firearms on school grounds, according to a State Senate bill which was approved in the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday on mostly party lines.
Sen. Don White (R-Armstrong) proposed the legislation, which would give public school boards permission to allow school staff the access to guns on campus, as long as they are properly trained and licensed.
Current law in Pennsylvania bans all weapons on school property. White's bill, Senate Bill 383, clarifies the law.
"The teachers who have come to me have said, I want the opportunity to defend my children and defend my life, and give me something more powerful than an eraser to throw at these people," White said following the committee hearing Wednesday.
The committee voted 9-3 to move the bill to the full Senate for future consideration.
Senator James Brewster of Allegheny and Westmoreland Counties was the lone Democrat to approve the bill. His district includes the Franklin Regional School District, where a student in 2014 stabbed 20 students and a security guard before he was subdued.
Governor Tom Wolf has already said he would veto the bill if it reaches his desk.
"School personnel shouldn't be told that the only help they will get from Harrisburg to make schools safer is the option to carry a loaded gun around their students," Wolf spokesperson J.J. Abbott said.
"Harrisburg can help schools be safer by giving them adequate funding so schools can hire trained security professionals like school resource or police officers should school professionals feel they need it, and counselors and support staff for students."
The Pennsylvania State Education Association, which is the state's teachers union, also opposes the bill.
"It's a nice thought but it doesn't make teachers safer. It doesn't make students safer," said PSEA spokesperson Wythe Keever. "It also puts first responders in a bad position because they have to regard every person with a gun as a possible perpetrator."
When the bill came up for a vote at Wednesday's hearing, Sen. Anthony Williams asked why there had been no public hearing to discuss the legislation. Multiple Senators replied that there had been, when Senator White brought forward similar legislation two years ago. Williams then asked White if he would be open to another hearing. According to Williams, there are three Senators currently on the Education Committee which are new to this session. White agreed. However, the motion to table the vote failed on party lines.
Senator John Eichelberger (R-Blair, Franklin, Cumberland), the committee chairman, explained the decision by saying the committee is too busy to make room for another hearing on its schedule.
"We're having a difficult time handling the amount of hearings we have," Eichelberger said.
"Frankly, I'm stunned," Williams responded. "With all due respect that makes us ignorant. We may be aware to it but we're ignorant to the facts as it relates to a hearing. That is why we start over."
The hearing was held in a standing room-only room, with many advocates representing the nonprofit, anti-gun violence group Everytown. There was also someone in a bear costume, holding a sign which read, "Keep Kids Safe (and Grizzlies too). No Guns in Schools." The act was a knock on Education Secretary Betsy Devos, who said in her U.S. Senate confirmation hearing that Wyoming school teacher's should be allowed guns to protect their classes from the threat of grizzly bears.
Shira Goodman, Executive Director of CeaseFire PA, said the bill does not guarantee a gun could not get in the hands of a student. She said the bill also does not address the safe storage of guns inside a school.
"These students are going to know where the teachers keep the guns," Goodman said "Sometimes have an armed guard, or a retired police officer, and some schools do that and involve parents and faculty in those decisions."
Nine states have passed similar legislation, and according to Sen. White, none of those states have seen an incident where a student has had access to a firearm.