A Day After Shooting, Kentucky Lawmakers Debate School Security

by | January 25, 2018

By John Cheves, Jack Brammer And Daniel Desrochers

Senate Minority Leader Ray Jones called Wednesday for an armed guard in every Kentucky public school following a deadly shooting Tuesday at Marshall County High School.

In a floor speech, Jones, D-Pikeville, said Kentucky has not adequately funded school security measures, including law-enforcement officers who are known as school resource officers.

"In my opinion, the legislature needs to commit public money to every public school in Kentucky and have an armed officer," said Jones.

Jones' comments came after Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris, filed a bill Tuesday that would allow public and private schools in Kentucky that cannot afford to hire a resource officer to designate one of their employees as an armed "school marshal."

West said he quickly filed Senate Bill 103 bill in response to the shooting at Marshall County High School that killed two students and wounded 14 others. The bill is a duplicate of a previous measure he filed in 2016.

School resource officers are sworn law-enforcement officers with specialized training and established relationships with local police agencies. But given budget constraints, there are only 230 of them in roughly half of Kentucky's counties, according to the Kentucky Center for School Safety.

By comparison, a school marshal would be a designated school employee who is already on the payroll and who has a concealed-carry permit, West said. The school would have to identify the marshal to Kentucky State Police as part of its "active shooter" response plan, so that officers arriving during a crisis would know which employee is armed. The marshal's gun would have to be safely locked away at most times.

"This is an option for school districts that can't afford a school resource officer," West said Wednesday. "The person who is appointed school marshal, they even buy their own gear, so it costs the district nothing."

"When I brought this bill forward (in 2016), I was trying to convince my colleagues," he said. "I was like, 'If we don't do something, we are going to have another Heath High School or another Sandy Hook situation, it's just a matter of time.' And yesterday proved that to be the case."

There was a school resource officer at Marshall County High School on Tuesday morning when the deadly shooting occurred there, according to Kentucky State Police. The 15-year-old shooter, who had a handgun, was taken into custody. However, many facts about the shooting have yet to be released.

In 2016, West's original school marshals bill was assigned to the Senate Committee on Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations, but it did not get a hearing. The Kentucky Association of Chiefs of Police objected to that bill, arguing that school employees with a concealed-carry license are not the equivalent of trained police officers, and they conceivably could make a shoot-out at a school even more chaotic.

Jones said he had no idea what motivated the shooter at Marshall County High "but we can take steps at the General Assembly to improve school safety."

"If it prevented one other incident like this to take place, it will be well worth it," said Jones. "It's not acceptable to continue down this road."

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said no one disagrees with Jones that the state needs to do everything it can to protect school children.

"The question becomes ... how do you do that," said Stivers. He said some school districts may feel uncomfortable with an armed guard while others might want them.

"There is much to look at here," he said. "We need to look at all the facts."

Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, said in a floor speech Wednesday that gun control is not the answer to stop school shootings. He expressed doubt that Frankfort can solve such problems.

On the other side of the Capitol, Rep. Attica Scott, D-Louisville, read a list of school shootings in Kentucky, saying that each time the legislature responded by offering its thoughts and prayers.

"We're training our babies how to react when faced with an active shooter, but we're not taking action on gun safety," Scott said.

Scott has proposed a bill, HB 189, that would allow local governments to enact legislation related to firearms. In her floor speech, she criticized Gov. Matt Bevin's statement expressing shock that the shooting could happen in a small community like Marshall County.

"We can do better than make those statements or tell people to walk around the block and pray to end gun violence or provide for a moment of silence," she said.

Rep. Jill York, R-Grayson, responded by saying it's too early to politicize the tragedy.

"While there are parents choosing caskets and deciding what to bury their children in, perhaps we can lay down the political push until that has happened," York said.

(c)2018 the Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.)