Senate spars over state-funded teacher gun training

Republicans say it improves safety but Democrats argue bill is riddled with holes

By: - April 19, 2023 6:45 am
training bill

A firearm shooting instructor assists a student at a shooting range. (Getty Images)

Indiana’s Senate on Tuesday — after vivid and emotional arguments — approved legislation creating a state-funded gun training program for school staff. Lawmakers gave school districts the authority to let their employees carry firearms at school a decade ago, but offered no training protocols.

Legislators have repeatedly tried to mandate gun training, but have failed to overcome fierce resistance.

“This does not go nearly as far as what I wish it did, because I really wish that it were mandatory training,” the bill’s Senate sponsor Travis Holdman, R-Markle, said on the floor. “But we can’t get that done in the General Assembly because I have tried that for the last number of years, and it has failed miserably in the House every time.”

“I understand the minority’s consternation with the bill, but we take as much ground as we possibly can,” Holdman concluded. Democrats have generally argued against firearms in schools, but say that if the program continues, gun training should be mandatory.

Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, faces off against Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, over a bill creating a state-funded gun training program for interested teachers. (Screenshot of livestream)

House Bill 1177 would let schools with armed staff apply for a new grant — out of Indiana’s secured school fund — that can only be used on firearms training. The legislation also establishes a standardized 40-hour curriculum, with instruction on safe handling, carrying and storage.

Instruction must also include firearm maintenance, marksmanship and “dynamic gun drills” recreating high-stress, highly populated environments and more. Staff would also have to learn about the legal consequences and psychological responses to shooting, school shootings, and emergency medicine for at least an hour each.

The bill says instructors must be “qualified” but doesn’t specify qualifications.

Making schools safer, or more dangerous?

Lawmakers offered vivid examples of school shootings, gun training and interactions with their own children while arguing for and against the bill Tuesday.

Sen. James Tomes, R-Wadesville, recounted that the year before the deadly 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, university administrators had opposed a state bill outlawing public university bans on concealed carry. Tomes then asked his colleagues to imagine themselves as students in the massacre.

“Put yourself in the shoes of those kids in that classroom. Thirty-two students — let’s say you’re number 21 in the lineup,” Tomes said. “… Would you want somebody else in that room with a gun to stop him? Make up your mind, because … you’re next up.”

Those administrators, he continued, “weren’t bragging” about their legislative victory after the shooting.

Tomes also spoke of a school districted that had allowed its staff members to carry, putting them through “demanding” training, a mental health evaluation. The guns, he said, were located in “secure places throughout the school” only known to the participating staff.

Democrats, meanwhile, said the bill wasn’t thorough enough because it leaves those details to individual districts.

Sen. Andrea Hunley, D-Indianapolis, noted that amendments on how schools should handle firearm storage and specifying that instructors should be certified failed to advance. Her own amendment requiring that parents be notified if their children’s teacher was armed failed Monday.

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“If I know that, I’m going to have a conversation with my student,” Hunley said at the time. “I’m going to say, ‘Baby, when you go to school today, remember that you have math, and remember that … your math teacher is carrying a firearm. Make sure that you don’t make any sudden movements. Make sure that you don’t do anything that would get you hurt today at school.”

Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, pressed Holdman on why the bill kept participating staff names confidential — arguing that law enforcement should have access to the information to be prepared in case of school shooting.

“If there’s a live shooter and the police officers come in, who’re they going to shoot? The person with a gun,” Taylor remarked.

Sen. Fady Qaddoura, D-Indianapolis, also called on the chamber to expand background checks, implement a 21-plus age restriction and return permitting processes that lawmakers ditched last year.

What’s next

After nearly an hour of discussion Tuesday, lawmakers approved the bill in a 42-8 vote. All Republicans voted in support, with Democrats J.D. Ford of Indianapolis and David Niezgodski of South Bend joining.

The bill, which originated in the House, has seen changes during its time in the Senate. House lawmakers must approve the edits or take the bill to a conference committee to work out the differences with their Senate colleagues.


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Leslie Bonilla Muñiz
Leslie Bonilla Muñiz

Leslie joins the Indiana Capital Chronicle after covering city government and urban affairs for the Indianapolis Business Journal for more than a year. She graduated from Northwestern University in March 2021, and has reported for the Chicago Tribune, Voice of America and student publications in Evanston, Illinois, Washington, D.C., and Doha, Qatar.