School guns bill advances to Indiana House

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The Indiana House Ways and Means Committee has forwarded to the full House a bill requiring a school employee to carry a loaded gun in all public and charter schools while children are in class.

Under the current version of the bill, schools would be allowed to apply for a waiver. The committee passed the bill on a 16-7 vote.  

Attorney General Greg Zoeller criticized the change to the bill.

"I'm concerned that Senate Bill 1 is losing its focus on providing a law enforcement presence in our schools.  All of the work this past year highlights the value of school resource officers developing the relationship between students and law enforcement in preventing many of the dangers of drugs and weapons in schools.  Hopefully the importance of developing a stronger school resource officer program in Indiana will continue to be the focus of the final bill, and I strongly recommend the original version of Senate Bill 1," Zoeller said.

The bill also aims to start a state grant program to help school districts buy safety equipment and hire police officers.

An Indiana lawmaker who's a former Hammond police captain says she worries that teachers or other civilians with guns in schools would be ineffective against potential attackers.

Democratic Rep. Linda Lawson told the House committee Tuesday that it's wrong to allow non-police officers to be armed in schools.

Indiana would become the first state in the country to require armed school employees if the bill becomes law. Supporters of the requirement say it would lessen the vulnerability of schools to violent attacks. The issue of arming school employees has risen to the fore after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in December.

Republican Gov. Mike Pence and others have said they think any decisions on arming employees should be left to local schools officials.

Some Indiana schools aren't waiting for the state legislature to act. Schools in Vigo County have taken the step many schools across the nation have considered in the wake of the shootings at Sandy Hook.

Armed police officers have been placed in schools throughout the county. The plan has been in the works for weeks following the Newtown shootings.

Their rounds include walking the hallways, the grounds, and standing guard at a locked entrance.

"I just think it's a wonderful thing. I think schools school safety, kids… It's number one in my mind," said Deputy Chris Mundy, a school protection officer.

The same officer will patrol the middle school every day. Both he and school leaders agree that's best for the safety and well-being of students.

"It's critical and it and I did and that's why I say is just an extension of community. It becomes a friendly face, someone that they know what help that someone who has their back someone who was there as a resource and it supports them just like we are every day," said Tammy Rowshandel, school principal.