Mississippi schools could make their own gun policies

JACKSON, Miss (AP) — Amid a series of mass shootings in the U.S., Mississippi education officials made clear that school districts in the state are on a path to being able to make their own rules for letting armed people with enhanced carry licenses onto school property.

Following killings at Uvalde’s Robb Elementary School, a July Fourth parade near Chicago and an Indiana mall, the Mississippi Board of Education voted Thursday to update a 1990 internal policy that prohibited anyone other than law enforcement from carrying guns on public school campuses.

Thursday’s step removed language from the 1990 policy, which the department said conflicted with Mississippi’s 2011 enhanced conceal carry law. The department also argued that the old policy “predates any notable school shootings.” The board adopted this update as a temporary rule. It is now up for a 25-day public comment period. The board expects to review feedback at its September meeting.

“A school district may, in its discretion, prohibit or allow its employees who hold enhanced conceal carry licenses to possess weapons at the school,” said Jean Cook, director of communication for the Mississippi Department of Education.

The board will revisit the policy after the public comment period and could vote to make the policy permanent. Alternatively, if the board considers significant changes to the policy, the revised version would go out for another public comment period.

The 2011 law allows individuals with enhanced carry licenses to carry guns on public school campuses. Enhanced licenses require training and allow gun owners to carry in several places where those with basic permits cannot.

At the board meeting, Erin Meyer, the education department’s general counsel, said state law provides “local school districts with the authority and discretion to determine” its weapons policies. School districts can decide for themselves whether or not employees who hold enhanced carry licenses can bring guns onto school property.

School districts must also adopt policies that apply to non-employees. A 2013 state attorney general’s opinion argued teachers or administrators can refuse to meet with armed people in a “non-public” school area. Mississippi K-12 schools are closed to the public, but a school concert, play or sporting event is open to the public, Cook said.

Patricia Ice, a volunteer with the Mississippi chapter of Moms Demand Action, a gun reform organization, urged school districts to adopt policies that limit firearms on campus.

“Allowing teachers and members of the public to carry guns in our K-12 schools is a dangerous idea that will further jeopardize the safety of students and staff alike,” Ice said. “We need the adults in the room to make evidence-based policy decisions that will actually keep our children safe, rather than making decisions that will put more guns in their classrooms and put our kids at risk.”

Erich Pratt, senior vice president with Gun Owners of America, said the group fully supports policies to allow willing teachers, administrators and support staff to carry concealed weapons on school campuses.

“Not only will they serve as a concrete deterrent against those who consider acts of evil, but should someone still try to attack a school, these policies will help to neutralize the threat and mitigate any loss of life,” Pratt said.

At an Indiana mall in July, a bystander shot and killed a man carrying out a shooting that claimed the lives of three people and wounded two others. But it is rare in the U.S. for an active shooter to be stopped in such fashion. From 2000 to 2021, fewer than 3% of 433 active attacks in the U.S. ended with a civilian firing back, according to the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center at Texas State University.

School districts are still required to have a policy regulating firearms on campus, but they have the authority to determine what these policies entail. Possessing a gun on school property without an enhanced concealed carry license is a felony under Mississippi law.

Research conducted by Everytown, another gun reform organization, found that Mississippi is one of the seven states that allow permit holders to carry guns in schools.

The state department of education moved to adopt new language Thursday, but the conflict with state law arose based on legislation that passed a decade ago. When asked about the timing of Thursday’s vote, Cook said the policy update is “part of an ongoing review of State Board policies to make sure all are up to date and in compliance with current law. About 30 policies have been updated over the past six months.”

Public schools in Mississippi have the authority to use funds to train employees to use guns. Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers, said the policy raises questions about whether teachers can be trained to use firearms for students’ protection.

“I don’t know that we can find the time in teachers’ schedules to be training them to that level, both physically and mentally, to have all those skills,” Canady said.

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Michael Goldberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mikergoldberg.

Copyright © 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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