FLORENCE, S.C. – A bill prefiled in the South Carolina House of Representatives would allow school employees with concealed weapons permits to bring their firearms to work.
Bill No. 3160, submitted Monday by Rep. Philip Lowe, R-Florence, spells out a process where employees of public educations institutions with concealed weapons permits (CWP) who meet specific sets of criteria could carry their weapons on school grounds.
The bill includes all public schools and institutions of higher learning, such as colleges and universities, and was immediately referred to the House Judiciary Committee with other prefiled legislation.
All the bills-in-waiting will be distributed to House members later this week, when members can decide if they would like to co-sponsor or otherwise support the measure.
Lowe said the measure would ultimately act as a deterrent to anyone planning an attack like the one Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left 26 people dead at the school, 20 of them young children.
“With a CWP, you’ve got to wonder who else has one,” Lowe said, “Any other person could be carrying one and might be able to stop the violence quicker, but what I’m hoping is it deters you from bringing the violence to the school to begin with.”
Lowe admits his proposal is in reaction to the Newtown shooting, but said the bill is by no means a “knee-jerk reaction” to the events in Connecticut.
Lowe’s bill says that each school employee wishing to carry a firearm on campus would be approved individually by that school’s board.
Written notification of an employee’s intent to carry must be delivered to the school’s principal and any employee.
But the bill doesn’t stop there.
The weapon must be concealed on the person at all times when not in use, and that only frangible bullets – which are designed to “disintegrate into tiny particles upon impact” – can be used as ammunition in an attempt to reduce the risk of ricochets.
Those with weapons must also receive additional training and be qualified by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) as a “precision marksman,” which requires a twice-a-year qualification renewal.
Employees seeking to carry must have no history of violence or unmanaged anger documented by their employer and those who violate provisions of the bill will have their CWP revoked by SLED and will be ineligible to carry for five years.
Lowe said the bill does not allow school board’s to issue blanket decrees banning employees with CWPs, requiring members to consider each candidate individually and provide just cause for denying them permission to carry.
Even with those provisions, Lowe admits his proposal isn’t a fail-safe solution preventing violence at educational institutions and said it does not assure incidents won’t arise as a result of guns being allowed on school campuses.
“I’ve tried to think through how we can make this the safest possible endeavor,” he said. “Nothing is perfectly safe anytime you have a gun involved.”
This isn’t the first time the South Carolina Legislature has considered allowing educators to arm themselves while on school grounds. Following the mass shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007, which resulted in the deaths of 32 people and remains the deadliest mass shooting in American history, then-state Rep. Jeff Duncan sponsored a bill that would allow concealed carry on public schools, colleges and university campuses.
The bill died on the House floor and Duncan was elected to the U.S. Congress in 2010, but the idea stayed with Lowe, who hopes this time around the measure will gain traction or, at the very least, begin the debate on how to prevent mass shootings in schools and elsewhere.
“I think it’s something that we can’t continue to ignore,” Lowe said of mass shootings and school violence. “It should be debate for the merit of it and a decision made.”
That debate is being had across the country in the wake of the Newtown shootings. On Monday, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed a bill passed by that state’s legislature on the eve of the shooting in Connecticut, saying the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School caused him to revisit the legislation.
The Michigan bill did not have as rigorous requirements as the one Lowe presented Monday and only required CWP holders take eight additional hours of training.
According to the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL), Utah is currently the only state in the union that allows concealed carry on academic institution campuses.
Five states, Colorado, Mississippi, Oregon, Utah and Wisconsin, allow concealed carry at post secondary institutions, while 23 states leave the decision solely up to the colleges and universities.
Lowe said he did not consult with educators before filing his bill, but said he has had conversations with teachers and other academic officials at varying levels since the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007.
Lowe said some expressed interest in allowing concealed carry in schools, while others admitted it made them nervous.
The S.C. House Democrats and Republicans are set to unveil their legislative agendas on Jan. 3.