Next semester, Webster University may have to take down the signs that label the campus a gun-free zone.
Webster is currently a gun-free zone by default, since no decision concerning weapons on campus has ever been formally constructed. Section 571.107 of Missouri’s Revised Statutes currently forbids the possession of a firearm on the campus of “any higher education institution or elementary or secondary school facility,” unless the school’s governing body decides otherwise.
Earlier this month, Missouri House Rep. Mike Kelley (R-Carthage) introduced Missouri House Bill 70 (HB 70), which would make one small but powerful addition to the clause. If changed, it would state, “unless such person is a teacher or school administrator,” at the end of the above clause.
If HB 70 is passed, Missouri teachers and administrators who have concealed carry permits would no longer need consent to carry a concealed firearm at school.
Kelley said the bill is still young, and he expects more changes to be made.
“I’m not saying I don’t want the school board to have an active role,” Kelley said, “But I also don’t want them to be able to rule out the option without looking at some of the benefits.”
Missouri State House Rep. Jeanne Kirkton (D-Webster Groves) said she does not support HB 70.
“I think it sends the wrong message,” Kirkton said. “There’s too much danger of friendly fire, and there’s possibilities that kids could get a hold of the gun.”
Kelley said such an event is unlikely.
“Truth be told, a concealed weapon is usually very well hidden,” Kelley said, “Once the time comes that you are actually pulling out a concealed weapon, it’s because a perpetrator is trying to harm your children.”
Chris Hawk, Student Government Association sergeant-at-arms, said he is an avid gun user.
“I do believe in owning guns, and I am a strong advocate of the Second Amendment,” Hawk said.
Hawk said he believes armed teachers and administrators could make schools safer, but he thinks regulation, licensing and checks are key.
Hawk said his father, sister and grandmother all work in schools.
“There’s a lot of things they can’t do in the classroom without administrative consent,” Hawk said. “It just seems daft and foolish to say that them carrying a gun in front of children shouldn’t be one of them. Of course it should be.”
Kelley said he is concerned that the governing bodies of Missouri schools are unaware they have the power to allow teachers and administrators to carry concealed firearms.
“It’s an option that has never been publicly promoted, I’ve had numerous school boards contact me stating they never knew that they could,” Kelley said.
Kelley also said he is not sure the decision should be up to the school instead of individual people and their right to protection.
“I guarantee you if you asked the families of people that have lost their lives due to shootings in gun-free zones they would probably have appreciated it if someone would have stopped the killing before it happened,” Kelley said.
Andy Miller, the Webster Groves Police Department (WGPD) public information officer, said the recent string of shootings in the United States have prompted the police department to add rifles, tactical body armor and extra ammunition to police vehicles in case of an incident involving an active shooter. He also said the WGPD is fully equipped to secure a campus as large as Webster’s. WGPD’s estimated response time to the Webster campus would be between 2 and 4 minutes.
Miller said the WGPD does not support arming teachers or administrators in educational settings. Miller said WGPD recommends students be instructed in ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate). Training in ALICE can be coordinated with Webster University’s public safety.
Dorothy Gardner, vice president and director of the Department of Legislation and Advocacy for The Missouri Parent and Teacher Association (MOPTA), said the organization advocates alternatives to arming teachers and administrators in schools.
“The (MO)PTA does not support arming teachers or school administrators as a way to prevent school violence,” Gardner said. “Instead, it is our belief that in order to achieve an effective school climate, schools must be completely gun-free.”
The MOPTA said it has been keeping a close eye on the legislation and plans to have its members contact legislature if the bill goes to committee.
Kirkton said HB 70 is likely to pass in the Missouri House of Representatives, but unlikely to make it through the Missouri Senate under its current wording.
Kelley said the bill still has a long way to go.
“We are doing what we can to make Missouri schools safer,” Kelley said. “The final version will be different than the version that you currently see. We’ve taken lots of positive comments and some negative comments, and we’ll put them together to make the legislation stronger.”
The proposed effective date for HB 70 is Aug. 28.