OKLAHOMA CITY — Saying it’s time to allow staff to protect themselves and avert armed intruders, House lawmakers voted Wednesday to make it easier for school personnel to carry guns on campus.

State Rep. Jeff Coody’s measure allows educators who have obtained valid handgun licenses to carry on campus — as long as they have approval from their local school board and district leadership.

“I believe this is the best time to bring up a bill like this,” said Coody, R-Grandfield. “Because this is the time where people are most focused on the situation. Anytime you have a perpetrator with a weapon, the only reasonable response to that situation is to meet force with force.”

Oklahoma’s lawmakers are wrestling with how to protect students and teachers following a nationwide string of school shootings, including a recent one at a Florida high school that killed 17.

“Most of our schools are woefully inadequate to respond to those situations,” Coody said of Oklahoma schools.

Critics argued that Oklahoma school districts have had the option to arm staff since 2015.

Under current law, as long as a staff member has a peace or security officer’s license, district leadership can authorize them to carry a handgun. Peace and security officer licensees typically undergo more rigorous training that takes days to complete. Oklahomans can obtain a handgun license in as little as a day.

Coody said 22 out of 531 districts currently have policies in place that would permit staff to carry handguns. The Oklahoma State School Boards Association, though, said it is only aware of one district that actually has armed employees — Okay Public Schools, located near Muskogee.

“If you’re going to have someone in a school who’s potentially going to be confronting an active shooter and there are lot of students, children around, don’t you think it would be responsible to require at least armed security guard or CLEET (Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training), not just demonstrating that you know how to shoot a gun at a range as is currently required by the Self-Defense Act?” asked state Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman.

Saying he “hates to be a skunk at this picnic,” state Rep. Brian Renegar, D-McAlester, questioned whether now is the best time to expand carry laws in school classrooms.

Renegar said just hours before the House committee convened, an armed Georgia school teacher was taken into custody after allegedly firing shots at school and barricading himself into a room.

But state Rep. Justin Humphrey, R-Lane, said he lives in a rural district where some schools are 30 to 45 minutes away from a sheriff’s department. Time is of the essence when dealing with school shooters to prevent casualities, he said.

The measure still must pass the full House and Senate.

Before the committee hearing, Senate President Pro Tem Mike Schulz, R-Altus, said in a statement that he’d been discussing school security and safety with other leaders.

“As a parent of two children who attended public schools, I can’t imagine the tremendous sadness of those parents in Florida who lost their children in this horrific tragedy,” Schulz said. “We need to continually examine whether we need to do more at the local and at the state level to keep our kids, teachers and schools safe.”

Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach her at jstecklein@cnhi.com.

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