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January 17, 2013

Issues arising in firearms debate

NORMAN — As post-Sandy Hook discourse on school violence and appropriate legislative response remains heated, the proposal to arm teachers has risen to national prominence as a controversial, polarizing conversation for professional educators facing an uncertain future.

State Rep. Mark McCullough, R-Sapulpa, brought the debate to the Oklahoma legislature with his December announcement of a bill he planned to bring to the House of Representatives authorizing teachers to carry firearms in schools.

Response from prominent Norman educators and community members has been mixed, but most agree that the arms debate highlights a need for addressing bigger societal problems that pre-existed the Sandy Hook massacre.

Ginger Tinney, executive director of Professional Oklahoma Educators, said her members’ response to the arms debate has been varied.

“From our membership, I’ve heard responses all across the board, and voices on both sides are very passionate,” Tinney said. “At a recent meeting, suggestions about a school security bond, using retired police or veterans as security personnel, mental illness and re-emphasizing ethics and compassion in schools were all raised. With everything coming from the state, our teachers are very stressed.”

Tinney said POE is currently conducting a poll of its membership to gauge the majority opinion on the question of arming teachers, and links to articles supporting and opposing the idea have been distributed on the group’s website.

“We want our members to read and ingest all sides of this issue,” Tinney said.

Oklahoma Education Association President Linda Hampton expressed her support for taking the gun issue out of the school safety equation, cautioning against hasty reactions.

“We need to change the focus to safety for our children, which is a much larger topic than what we’re focusing on, and the answer has to be much bigger than looking at the gun issue,” Hampton said. “We can’t oversimplify what happened at Sandy Hook and there’s no quick fix, which is the problem after tragedies.”

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