Attorney General Dustin McDaniel set off a flurry of news stories and political eruptions with his office’s issuance of an official opinion that Arkansas law doesn’t allow public school districts to use the artifice of training staff as private security guards to enable them to carry weapons on campus.
Recent stories about the Clarksville School District, which has spent more than $70,000 training and equipping more than 20 staff members, including teachers, to carry guns prompted a request for the opinion. McDaniel said the security guard licensing law is to enable private businesses to train people for hire by others, not to use as a backdoor for public agencies to have armed staff members . State law, he notes, prohibits most people from having guns on school campuses.
It’s important to remember that this is a LEGAL opinion, not a political opinion. Yes, the attorney general undoubtedly can influence the final product of his opinions division, but it’s a veteran group that generally tries to interpret the law as written.
I emphasize this because of a passionate letter I got from a long-time reader and Clarksville resident, who endorses the school board decision to back Superintendent David Hopkins on putting an undisclosed number of staffers in his five schools with concealed weapons. She wrote:
I can’t say that arming administrators and staff is right or wrong. Nothing in this issue is clearly black or white. But we don’t need the A/G to define our gray areas. He isn’t here, and we are. In this issue, I support the administration. Nothing here is easy.
The attorney general has NO CHOICE but to define the law when a state representative (Hank Wilkins) asks for an opinion.
Then there was K. Ryan James, paid political strategist for an assortment of Republican politicos, who instantly issued a Tweet/chortle at the news:
Guessing DMac not running for anything, ever.
This reflects the reflexive Republican position that the 1st Commandment of Arkansas politics is that one must never speak ill of guns or expansion of their use.
But wait. Remember when Asa Hutchinson, paid expert for the NRA and also the Repubican front-runner for governor, said this about guns in school (more of which, naturally, he favors):
“Obviously, we believe they will make a difference in the various layers that make up school safety,” Hutchinson, a former congressman, told a news conference held under unusually heavy security.
“This is not talking about all teachers. Teachers should teach.”
He reiterated that position on Twitter today.
In Clarksville, though, the idea was to have some teachers teaching while wearing concealed holsters all day, under shirts, pants and within bras, as a measure of security against the potential arrival of an “active shooter” at one of the district’s five schools. This was not prompted by local violence but fear stirred by school shootings in other states.
Curtis Coleman, another Republican candidate, sniffed opportunity, making Hutchinson again look like something of a moderate in the context. Said Coleman:
“I applaud the Clarksville School District for taking the initiative on campus safety. Giving teachers and staff the choice to take the proper training and act as a volunteer security force to keep our children safe was exactly the appropriate course of action. It is truly unfortunate that as a result of Attorney General Dustin McDaniel’s opinion stating that the Clarksville School District—or any school district in Arkansas for that matter—cannot have this kind of local control, a chilling effect will be placed on future efforts.
Coleman called for the legislature to pass a law to explicitly allow local option on guns and promised to lead the effort, generally, to loosen state grip on local schools.
I don’t doubt that many other Republicans will echo this sentiment.
Leslie Rutledge, a Republican candidate for attorney general, seems to support more guns in her statement, but doesn’t take exception to McDaniel’s opinion on legal grounds.
This Act could easily be modified to allow school districts to have certain employees of the district to become certified to work with local sheriffs and law enforcement. In light of today’s opinion by the Attorney General, it appears that the legislature needs to specifically address the issue as it applies to our schools. I will work with the members of the legislature to ensure that any laws they pass on this, or any other issue, are Constitutional and are vigorously defended.”
I’m not so sure support for more guns in school is as deep as K. Ryan James and Curtis Coleman think. Some Clarksville parents were already voicing their desire to avoid schools packed with more guns. Not that we govern by plebiscite, but I’d be interested to see a truly unbiased sample of how Arkansans feel about placing additional concealed weapons in schools. They are, at a minimum, an attractive nuisance to kids and an invitation to accidents. (Don’t tell me trained people don’t have accidents. Remember the shooting at the Hot Springs gun show the other day? By an “unloaded” gun?)
But unless the sensible stand tall, the loud voices will carry the day.
Meanwhile, Clarksville Superintendent Hopkins, whose armament policy landed him on the Today show this morning. hasn’t gotten back to me on my question about what happens next. But he told AP, while still reviewing the opinion, that it sounded as if the opinion said his program wasn’t allowable and had thrown a “monkey wrench” into his plans.
“Obviously we’re going to comply with the law,” he said.
Two other small points: Among the list of districts designated as “private businesses” in the McDaniel opinion — and thus theoretically once eligible under the now discredited opinion that districts could declare themselves such to get guns in the hands of trained staff members — were the Little Rock and Pulaski school districts. Both districts told me they have no staff members licensed or otherwise permitted to carry guns on campus. Pulaski has uniformed law enforcement officers as ‘resource officers” at various schools.