Midnight special: Oklahoma House advances bill to allow armed teachers

OKLAHOMA CITYCall it the midnight special: The Oklahoma House of Representatives, running behind schedule to meet deadlines to forward bills for Senate consideration, worked late on March 12. So late, in fact, that it was almost March 13 before pro-gun bills made it to the floor.

House members gave strong approval to bills advancing Second Amendment rights — including House Bill 1062, a proposal to allow teachers trained in gun safety to bring weapons to school sites. Cheering them on was Larry Pratt, the “happy warrior” who runs Gun Owners of America.

The House also pushed through the Firearms Freedom Act, House Bill 2021, allowing firearms manufactured in the Sooner State to be free from federal laws, taxes and regulations. That measure drew only 12 negative votes, with 79 backing it.

Another measure, House Bill 1622, passed 87-4. Its sponsor, state Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, said the measue “restores personal property rights to private schools by allowing them to establish a policy if they choose to for their administrators and teachers to carry a weapon on their school property.”

In the end, the “teacher carry” bill, H.B. 1062, prevailed on a 68-23 vote, drawing seven Democratic votes along with all but five of the Republicans present and voting. Ten members, many of them absent due to the late hour, did not vote. 

Passage came after majorities rebuffed proposed amendments, including a proposal to allow parents to transfer children to private schools in districts allowing teachers to carry weapons. 

In a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK, state Rep. Mark McCullough, R-Sapulpah, credited his co-sponsors and state Rep. Josh Cockroft (R-Tecumseh) for their work. McCullough said, “This legislation creates an option some schools may use to address safety concerns; it is not a mandate. Schools without some form of security system in place leave themselves vulnerable to attacks and, as lawmakers, our job is to provide them with tools to keep their students safe.”

If the measure passes the Senate in its present form and is signed by Governor Mary Fallin, school personnel allowed to carry weapons onto campus would include administrators, superintendents, principals, supervisors, vice-principals, teachers, counselors, librarians, bus drivers, school nurses and others “in any instructional capacity.”

The measure includes tort claim protections for personnel carrying weapons in compliance with the proposed law. The bill allows, and appears to encourage, school districts to enter into memorandums of understanding with local law enforcement. 

The measure now moves to the Senate, where Judiciary Committee Chairman Anthony Sykes, R-Moore, is its champion. 

House passage of the measure allowing armed teachers was a victory for lead sponsor Mark McCullough of Sapulpa, and his co-sponsors — fellow Republicans Sean Roberts of Osage and Mike Ritze of Broken Arrow. 

Rep. Ritze told CapitolBeatOK, “Until there is recognition for the constitutional right of every law-abiding citizen to carry a gun, it is not only reasonable but prudent to encourage incremental steps like this, to take our country back to liberty. One person with a gun, knowing how to use it effectively and safely, could have stopped the Newtown school killer in his tracks. I am proud of the bipartisan majority that passed this in the Oklahoma House.”

The legislation leaves in place many restrictions on taking weapons onto school properties, but creates a specific exemption: 

A handgun may be carried into any elementary or secondary school by school personnel who have successfully completed a special reserve school resource officer academy, … provided a policy has been adopted by the board of education of a school district that authorizes the carrying of a handgun into the elementary or second school.”

The measure specifically allows possession of handguns by teachers who complete the designated safety training, if a simple majority of the local board has enacted that policy. The academy for school resource officers “shall be conducted by CLEET (the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training).” If ultimately enacted, the measure devolves to CLEET authority to “promulgate policies and procedures” for implementation, and for continuing education and training. 

Pratt, the national pro-gun activist who watched the debate, told CapitolBeatOK, “I don’t understand why there is so much resistance to the idea of teachers being able to protect children. That’s a shocking mindset, especially in a place like Oklahoma.” 

Pratt’s visit to Oklahoma was coordinated with Oklahomans for Liberty, a Tulsa-based organization, and the Oklahoma Second Amendment Association (OK2A). Just a few hours after the win for H.B. 1062, state Reps. John Bennett, R-Sequoyah and state Rep. Ken Walker, R-Tulsa, along with Sen. Natham Dahm, R-Tulsa, joined members of the two groups for an Oklahoma City breakfast to celebrate passage. 

Pratt, who has labored on Second Amendment issues for decades, reviewed the national picture, putting the Oklahoma pro-gun push in broader context. Pratt said the Obama administration’s drive to enact new restrictions on gun owners’ rights have stalled and will soon fade. 

Pratt told allies at the breakfast meeting, “We have many fights left ahead of us, but the fact of the matter is that we have made tremendous progress.” 

You may contact Patrick B. McGuigan, Oklahoma City bureau chief for Watchdog.org, at Patrick@capitolbeatok.com and follow us on Twitter: @capitolbeatok.