INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana House Republicans approved a bill Tuesday that would begin a state-funded handgun training program for teachers that critics argue would wrongly encourage more guns in classrooms across the state.
The Republican-backed bill passed in a 71-24 vote predominantly on party lines, with supporters saying the training would give teachers opportunities to defend themselves and students if needed. State law currently allows school districts to permit teachers to be armed, but no training is mandated.
“Sadly, it’s something that’s necessary for the tragic world we live in today,” said bill sponsor Republican Rep. Jim Lucas, of Seymour.
The House education committee passed the bill 9-4 on party lines earlier this month. In that hearing, Lucas stressed the training program would be voluntary and paid for by the state, with about 40 hours of instruction for teachers.
Democratic Rep. Tonya Pfaff, a math teacher from Terre Haute, objected that the proposal would lead to “more guns in school,” citing the risks associated with having guns in the classroom and worries that students could access the weapon or take it from a teacher.
“We want to teach, nurture and inspire students,” Pfaff said during Tuesday’s debate. “We don’t want to carry guns on our hips and normalize guns in schools.”
Efforts by Indiana lawmakers to offer additional training failed in recent years amid opposition from both gun-rights advocates, who said the training mandates overstepped local control, and gun-control proponents, who argued such steps were aimed at arming teachers.
A handful of Indiana school districts currently allow some teachers to carry guns. School safety gained attention around Indiana following shootings in 2018 at a Noblesville middle school, in which a boy wounded a classmate and teacher, and at a Richmond middle school, where a boy shot out a door and fired at officers before killing himself.
Indiana lawmakers repealed a permit requirement for those carrying a gun in public at the previous legislative session. All residents age 18 or older — except those with a felony conviction, face a restraining order or have a dangerous mental illness — can carry a handgun in public.
That bill faced opposition from the Indiana police superintendent and several statewide law enforcement groups, who said eliminating the permit system would endanger officers by stripping them of a screening tool for quickly identifying dangerous people who shouldn’t have guns.
Lucas cited the shooting this past summer at a shopping mall in the Indianapolis suburb of Greenwood, when a man opened fire in the mall’s food court, shooting five people, three fatally, before a bystander fatally shot the shooter.
“Guns are part of the American way of life,” Lucas said. “It’s enshrined in our Constitution. It’s enshrined in our Bill of Rights.”
Arleigh Rodgers 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 her on Twitter here.