“The key to this piece of this legislation ... [is] I did not want to make this a mandate where systems had to [allow administrators to carry guns],” Battles said. “... It’s an option, and if school boards say they don’t want to do this, they don’t have to.”
HB 35 amends Part 3 of Article 4 of Chapter 11 of Title 16 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to carrying and possession of firearms, “so as to provide that the board of education of each school system in this state shall be authorized to designate one or more administrators in each school in the school system to possess and carry firearms within a school safety zone or school building, at a school function, or on school property or on a bus or other transportation furnished by the school; to provide for training; to provide for related matters; to provide for an effective date; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes. Carrying weapons within school safety zones, at school functions, or on school property.”
Battles said he had previously spoke with Bartow County Superintendent John Harper, who expressed concern over limited security coverage across the expansive school district. There currently are 20 schools in Bartow County, including the Bartow County Learning Center, and they are overseen by rotating school resource officers from the Bartow County Sheriff’s Office.
Cartersville city schools also have school resource officers rotating through the system’s five schools.
“It was really after having conversations with Dr. Harper that prompted me to get involved with this, and after I did and talked with some other legislators, even a retired sheriff we have in the legislature, they encouraged me to go forward with it and prepare a bill of legislation that would deal with not having as much [security] coverage in our school system as we would like,” Battles said.
Cartersville City Superintendent Howard Hinesley said he has not discussed with the school board the option of arming administrators as a safety measure, but the board will address the proposed legislation.
“We actually have a meeting this week with the principals to critique our current safety plan,” Hinesley said. “We talked about it right before the holidays, but we’re going through it in some detail this week to talk about what we are doing that we might be able to improve.”
The current law bans administrators from carrying guns on their persons, but does provide a number of exemptions for carrying guns on campus beyond school resource officers and other law enforcement, including clerks of the court and state and federal judges. There also are exemptions for approved school faculty to have a gun locked inside a container inside their vehicle.
Battles said the requirements for allowing an administrator to carry a gun would be ongoing.
“What they will have to do is they will have to qualify by background checks, they would have to have a permit, and the real key to this was we did not want anyone who was untrained ... so we put in [the bill] they must complete peace officers mandate training and that has to do with crisis situations, arrests, law — a lot of the things that any peace officer would deal with, ” Battles said. “They would have to complete that course ... and do training with local law enforcement ... both qualifying with their weapon every year, plus the continual training of dealing with crisis situations especially as it has to do with schools. So the legislation ... has every safety mechanism to take care of hopefully being able to certify one administrator or more.”
Calls to Harper and the BCSO were not returned at press time.