MADISON, Wis. — Gov. Scott Walker came out Wednesday against putting guns in the hands of teachers to defend against school shooters, but he’s also talking with lawmakers about passing a comprehensive school safety agenda this year.
Walker would not say what exactly is being discussed in the wake of the shooting at a Florida high school two weeks ago that left 17 dead, and reignited the national debate over gun control and how to protect school children. Republican Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke said Walker brought up the issue during a meeting on Tuesday, but offered no specifics.
Walker likened school safety to airport security measures taken after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, saying the key is to prevent someone who means to do harm from getting into the building.
“We need to have that same approach when it comes to schools, making sure that no child, no student, no teacher, no parent should ever have to be afraid of being threatened,” he said.
Walker’s opposition to arming teachers set him apart from other Wisconsin Republicans who are open to the idea. GOP Attorney General Brad Schimel said he would be OK with the state Department of Justice offering training to teachers on how to use firearms. And both Republican candidates for U.S. Senate — Delafield businessman Kevin Nicholson and state Sen. Leah Vukmir — have said arming teachers should be part of school safety plans if schools want to do it.
“I don’t agree with the premise that the answer is to put more teachers into training to have them armed in the classroom,” Walker said. “I think there are other ways were going to roll out in the next few weeks. … We want something that’s going to help school districts across the board.”
Steineke also opposes arming teachers.
“It would be a different story if the teacher had prior military or law enforcement experience,” he said. “Having concealed carry training or something like that doesn’t necessarily translate to the tactics and operational experience you’d have to go up against a school shooter.”
A bill introduced in the Assembly this year to legalize the arming of teachers as part of a pilot project has gone nowhere. The Assembly last week did pass a bill creating a grant program to help schools pay for armed guards.
Under that bill, school districts could receive grants from the state Justice Department for three consecutive years to pay armed security officers in schools with grades 5-12. The proposal, which needs Senate approval to become law, would also make purchasing a gun for someone prohibited from possessing one a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Walker, who did not mention that bill as being part of what he will back, said he was talking with lawmakers, teachers, students, school officials, law enforcement and others about the best approach to school safety.
“There’s an active interest in a comprehensive plan overall,” he said.
The Assembly planned not to return after finishing its work for the year last week. But Walker said he was in talks with leaders “right now” about them coming back to take up school safety bills and Steineke was open to the idea, as long as it was narrowly focused.
Senate Democrats have not been included in any talks with Walker or Republicans about school safety bills, said Kate Constalie, a spokeswoman for Senate Democratic Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling. Shilling sent a letter to Senate Republican Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald on Tuesday urging action on measures that would lift revenue limits for schools to cover safety costs, prohibit the sale of bump stocks and bar anyone convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor from possessing a gun.
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