Once again I hang my head in shame of my State Legislature. Yesterday the South Dakota House voted 42 to 27 to let school boards put our children at greater risk of violent death by empowering Second Amendment devotees to strut around our schools pretending they are doing something brave and noble with their guns.
House Bill 1087, the school gunslinger bill, compounds its harms by trying to keep them secret from parents and taxpayers. Frankly, as a parent, I want to know exactly which teachers and staff in my daughter's school are carrying weapons. If one second-grade teacher has a gun in her classroom, I will demand that my daughter not be placed in that classroom. If a fellow teacher in my high school is carrying a gun, I will demand that that teacher not enter my classroom while students are present.
Yet as proponent and big shooter Rep. Charlie Hoffman (R-23/Eureka) made clear in the floor debate yesterday, one major point of the school-gunslinger bill is to keep the presence of guns in the school absolutely secret:
Other speakers emphasized the perceived security benefits of this bill. Even if very few schools arm teachers under this measure, supporters said, the ambiguity that perhaps a school might have an armed volunteer would deter shooters.
“The bad guys will have no knowledge of any school that has taken advantage of being able to have a sentinel,” said Rep. Charlie Hoffman, R-Eureka. “That alone will stop many of the people who want to create carnage from doing so” [David Montgomery, "School Sentinels Bill Passes House 42-27," Political Smoekout, 2013.01.29].
Rep. Hoffman is wrong. Parents and attentive crazed gunmen will know whether their schools are submitting to media hype and hysteria and putting their children at greater risk of death by firearm. Section 9 of HB 1087 reads thus:
Any discussion conducted by a school board regarding a school sentinel program created pursuant to this Act shall be conducted in an executive or closed meeting held in accordance with § 1-25-2 from which no printed materials or record may be made available to the public.
Any discussion.... Our open meeting laws and this clause allow discussion in private, but votes still must be public. The board cannot simply come out of executive session and say, "We hereby vote to do the thing we were talking about." The vote must be open, and the public must know what that vote is for.
And there's more: regarding a... program created... created. That's a past participle. When a school board sits down for its first discussion of a school gunslinger program, the program will not yet have been created. Therefore, under the language of the current bill, the creating discussion must be public. Parents and other taxpayers must be able to at least watch if not participate in that discussion. That initial public discussion and subsequent public vote will make clear whether a school has succumbed to Second Amendment fantasies or whether it continues to take serious its obligation to teach children in a safe, gun-free environment.