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House Education Cmte Makes School Gunslingers Secret, Proves Local Control Bad

House Bill 1087, South Dakota's school gunslinger bill, passed the House Education Committee on an 8-to-7 vote with notable amendments. Those amendments only make HB 1087 worse and disprove the local-control argument that proponents have been using to shield themselves from responsibility for increasing the risk that our children will get shot at school. Let's review:

  1. HB 1087 now requires that we call these armed guards "school sentinels," which sounds like silly comic-book nomenclature. Why not the more literal and accurate term "armed guard" or "gunslinger"?
  2. HB 1087 now requires that school boards obtain the approval of the local sheriff for any gunslinger plan or changes thereto. Hmm... proponents have been accusing opponents of not trusting their school boards... but now the bill itself distrusts school boards to come up with good plans of their own.
  3. HB 1087 now requires that all school gunslingers first complete state firearms training, probably 47 hours worth, just like police. So proponents are now admitting that it is o.k. for the state to trump local control with state requirements to prevent schools from implementing bad policy. HB 1087 proponents admit letting schools arm untrained volunteers is a bad idea; I continue to contend that letting schools put even trained volunteers carry guns into classrooms is a bad idea. We disagree on the particulars, but House Education agrees with me that local control is not our guiding principle on something as dangerous as guns in school.
  4. HB 1087 now makes your school board's discussion of a gunslinger program secret. Any discussion of such a program happens in executive session. So whether you like or don't like having armed guards in your school, your school board can't tell you whether your child is sitting in a classroom with a person with a gun. Rep. Hal Wick says this secrecy will keep hypothetical shooters in the dark about school safety plans; unfortunately, it also keeps parents in the dark about their children's safety and taxpayers in the dark about the use of their money.

At the start, arming teachers and janitors and other volunteers in school was a bad idea, an emotional overreaction to the December school shooting in Connecticut. Yesterday's amendment only made House Bill 1087 worse. It exposed the speciousness of proponents' local control argument. It exposed the true costs of such a bill in terms of training armed guards. It makes our plans to expand the police state in our schools secret from parents and voters.

House members, yesterday's amendment shows you can't save bad policy. Vote it down.

Bonus Bill Blarney: On top of all that, Rep. Jacqueline Sly's amendment made HB 1087 unconstitutional. As she wrote a 16th clause into SDCL 23-3-35 to authorize the Law Enforcement Officers Standards Commission to come up with rules for certifying the school gunslingers, she apparently noticed that incumbent was misspelled (incumbant) in an unrelated existing clause. Her amendment to HB 1087 thus includes a correction of that misspelling. But at that point, HB 1087 becomes a two-subject bill: creating and training school sentinels and revising SDCL 23-3-35 for style and form. And that, as my friends in the Mugwump wing of the GOP will eagerly point out, violates the provision in the South Dakota Constitution that "No law shall embrace more than one subject, which shall be expressed in its title." Boom! Judicial review hammer time!

But darn it: when I check SDCL 23-3-35 online, I find incumbent spelled correctly. Hmm... did someone at LRC already fix the misspelling, or might the printed statute not match the online copy?



  1. Rorschach 2013.01.26

    So they favor school boards by giving sheriffs control over school board decisions, and by putting a gag order on school board members (executive sessions required). So much for local control.

    To answer Rep. Hickey's question: "Which school board don't you trust?" The answer for those voting for this bill will now be "All of them."

  2. David Newquist 2013.01.26

    A consideration that has not been broached is how the compulsory school attendance law affects parents who have a conscientious objection to sending their children to an armed setting. There are many people who are offended at arming schools for the eventuality of armed conflict rather than disarming them for the eventuality of peaceful pursuit of learning. Schools that prepare for violence are implicit demonstrations of the acceptance of violence as the condition for any security. It is significant that the proposed laws provide for training of educators and other school personnel for shootouts, but no one has suggested measures that could be taken to neutralize potential threats through means other than engagement with firearms. Most of the school shooters embarked on their massacres with no intention of surviving themselves. The presence of armed personnel will intensify the challenge, not dissuade intent shooters from trying.

    But what is most significant from the educational standpoint is the amount of consideration given to arming teachers for combat rather than arming them with the knowledge and skills that might improve instruction.

    The entire discussion on gun violence in legislatures indicates that we have accepted a culture of violence as a national creed.

  3. Steve Sibson 2013.01.26

    "Yesterday's amendment only made House Bill 1087 worse. "
    "Rep. Jacqueline Sly's amendment made HB 1087 unconstitutional."

    I agree with both statements. The school's gun-free zones are unconstitutional period and this bill should not allow any governmental authority, including school boards and/or sherriffs, to deny school officials the right to bear arms.

  4. Sam Peil 2013.01.26


    I agree with you and have posed the question of what parents who oppose having armed school personnel (aside from the SRO) should do if their district would happen to go this route when I contacted some of the House Ed Committee members. In some of the remote areas of the state, open enrollment is not feasible for many families. Similarly, I believe that schools will lose educators who do not wish to teach in such an environment.

  5. Jana 2013.01.26

    "Most police chiefs and sheriffs disagree with arming teachers, and as the experts in lethal force, they have valid reasons for doing so. Police officers, who must qualify at a pistol range on a regular basis, still hit their human targets only about 17 percent of the time, a nationwide statistic that does not vary much from year to year."

    This quote is from a professor who as a narcotics agent with the California Department of Justice actually shot and killed someone.

    You can read her abhorrence to having teacher pack heat here:

  6. Steve Sibson 2013.01.26

    "Most police chiefs and sheriffs disagree with arming teachers"

    That is why the legislation need to be amended. Sheriffs should not be given the authority to deny a law-abiding school official their constitutional rights to bear arms.

  7. Jana 2013.01.26

    Why would they deny a law abiding school official/janitor/volunteer sentinel a permit Sibby?

    Are you saying someone else should be put in charge of that authority? Or are you saying that anyone should just be able to grab an AR-15 with a hundred round clip and keep our children safe?

  8. larry kurtz 2013.01.26

    Sibby, you deserve some kudos for straggling in here to defend the tenets of your once-proud but now drain-circling party. Email me with the phone number of your favorite eating place and i’ll buy dinner for you and your bride.

  9. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.01.26

    Dang it, Sibby, I've told you we sacrifice rights in every workplace. I sacrifice my First Amendment rights when I step in the school doors. I don't get to blog during class or advocate for Democrats during class. That restriction hits me harder than any restriction on my rarely used and mostly irrelevant and archaic Second Amendment rights. But I can take it, because I recognize that rights aren't absolute and that other interests supercede. Get over it.

  10. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.01.26

    And David: training in means of engagement other than firearms—indeed! Why are we not considering other ways to stop gunmen? Why is the Legislature not talking about an all-of-the-above approach to school violence? Why are focusing just on guns? This is huge evidence of the culture of violence that pains David and me so.

  11. grudznick 2013.01.26

    Maybe young Ms. Sly was just correcting the existing bill and not the old law like Mr. H hopes. We've had some french math issues lately and this could be similar.

  12. mc 2013.01.28

    I wish I could understand where this fear/hatred of guns comes from.

    I find the term 'Gunslinger' slightly offensive, as it refers to hired gunfighters from yesteryear. That is ,or rather was, their profession. Teachers or other school staff are not going to walk around the school randomly shooting students or other people. I'm not going to use the term 'School Sentinel' like Cory, I find the term somewhat comical.

    Some schools have a (armed) resource officer, there is no need to train or arm staff. School boards, and law enforcement are faced budget cuts, and increased expenses every year. It is very possible that the resource officer might be assigned other duties, outside of the school. Teachers may often 'double' up on duties. We are still expecting schools to keep our children safe.

    Of course we want those to carry guns (teachers, law enforcement, hunters, etc.) to be trained, that only make sense. I wouldn't want some one untrained trying to figure out how to use a gun if the need arises. I can understand keeping who is armed and who is not, who is trained and who isn't secret. I should know that if someone goes on a shooting rampage in a school, they will not get very far.

    Schools are supposed to be safe places where kids can be taught. This bill gives school boards one more tool they can use to do that. They can also have 15' chain-link fences with razor wire, a moat with black acid, steel doors, they can even make the school grounds a gun free zone. If this bill becomes law, it doesn't mean every teacher has to be trained, or every teacher has to carry a gun. It just gives that option to the school board should their situation require it.

    There are well over 100,000 schools in this country. Do you want to take that chance that a shooting will not happen in your school?

  13. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.01.28

    I find the term "sentinel" silly as well, a marketing ploy to make this bill fit the fantasies of its sponsors. If "gunslinger" refers to hired gunfighters from yesteryear... well, isn't that exactly what we envision those armed school guards doing, engaging school shooters in firefights? "Gunslinger" brings honesty in advertising.

    I think moats and barbed wire also go too far. Why make our schools more like prisons? Why create an atmosphere of exaggerated fear? Why respond to hyperbolically to minute threats by creating a new daily threat (accidental discharge of a school firearm) and ignoring other existing and more pressing threats, like student emotional issues, ADHD, lack of funding for programs, etc.? If we have time and money to spend on a problem, let's spend it on a problem where we can make a positive difference every day. We're already doing enough to protect our daughters with IDs, locked doors, security drills, and, alas, armed police dropping by. Now it's like trying to make soldiers bulletproof: you could wrap every soldier head to toe in a suit of lead... but he wouldn't be able to do his job. You can wrap schools in every security measure you can imagine... but pretty soon, the diminishing gains in security are outweighed by the harm to the educational environment.

  14. Sam Peil 2013.01.28


    Yes, teachers wear many hats. Adding sentinel to that stack of hats is a bad move (sentinel is the term used in the text of the bill). Will school personel who carry under the sentinel position be paid for the additional responsibility? Have you seen an analysis of what the sentinel will cost a school district? Will the districts limit the number of sentinels to reduce costs?

  15. LK 2013.01.28

    Guns have one purpose: to kill.

    I live a pretty quiet life. I go to work. I go home. I shop for groceries sometimes when my wife is busy. I don't need a handgun for any of those things. I don't want a handgun anywhere near me in any of those situations.

    I have no reason to trust that any human with a weapon is carrying it only for defensive purposes. I have no reason to believe that that person will always use it responsibly.

    In fact, I think that it’s far safer to assume that the person will use it irresponsibly. We live in a world where one has to look both ways at a green light because we can’t trust that others won’t speed through the intersection on a “pink” light, and you really want me to trust that some civilian will not at some point be idiotic or power drunk while carrying a weapon?

  16. Steve Sibson 2013.01.28

    "Guns have one purpose: to kill."

    Not true, most times it will scare off criminals without firing a shot.

  17. mc 2013.01.28

    If handguns are so dangerous, why do police carry them?

    Every school district, every school, every teacher must asses the various threats/risks and take measured steps to neturalize that threat. It might be a simple a sign on the front door, or just locking the door. It may require stronger measures, like a rescource officer or armed guard. Each situation is different. This bill just gives school boards an additional tool if they believe the risk is strong enough to warrent it. Cory is right, protecting schools is only a small piece of the puzzle. We need to address many of the social / mental health issues that plague our soceity today.

  18. Steve Sibson 2013.01.28

    "Or are you saying that anyone should just be able to grab an AR-15 with a hundred round clip and keep our children safe?"

    No not just "anyone", just law-abiding citizens and no "I" am not saying anything. The Constitution's Article VI Section 24 is making that a right. A school board nor a sherriff should violate the Constitution. There is a process to remove that. Until that happens, then we have legislators violating their oath of office.

  19. LK 2013.01.28

    I should have said "civilian" thourghout the previous comment. I hope that police and military training is sufficent to remove the "power drunk" aspect of carrying the handgun.

    I remain steadfast that there's no reason for any civilian to carry a handgun to school or the grocery store. As another commenter has written. This the US not Syria.

  20. MC 2013.01.28

    LK, I believe you correct, as me typing this, there is not a need for average person to carry a hand gun for personal protection in South Dakota. However our society seems to be fixated on a culture of killing and death. Given the deep political divides in Washington and Pierre, along with some general dissatisfaction with our government, I might need one tomorrow. As we have seen overseas, situations can change very rapidly.

    The power drunk you are speaking of can be very dangerous. This is where PROFESSIONAL training into play. People need to know when to run, when to draw their weapon, etc. While I maintain keeping and bearing arms is more than a just a right, it is a grave responsibility. Somehow we lost that over the generations. Maybe it is time we get it back.

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