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Arkansas Schools May Not Arm Teachers, AG Says

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A month after a River Valley school district announced it would arm its teachers, the Arkansas attorney general issued an opinion stating school districts may not arm their staffs with guns.

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel issued the official opinion Thursday, saying that a state law allowing private businesses to provide armed security to clients does not extend to Arkansas schools.

In his statement, McDaniel points out that “no person in this state shall possess a firearm…(on) property of a public or private school…upon any school bus or…at a designated bus stop.”

McDaniel also states it is up to individual prosecutors whether to proceed with charges against anyone who seemingly violates the law concerning carrying firearms on school grounds.

Several parents said they might pull their children from Clarksville schools in July after hearing that the school would start arming teachers and staff who received proper gun training. The Clarksville School District superintendent told 5NEWS at the time he believed arming staff members would prevent school gun violence and increase safety at the local schools.

"I am very disappointed in the decision (by McDaniel)," Clarksville Superintendent David Hopkins said Thursday in a statement. "We poured a lot of money into the program and felt the community was behind us."

The statement continues, "It is a setback. We tried to be in compliance with the law, as the employees were licensed. The district did nothing wrong. We respected and complied with law, so we will now be looking into the situation it closely and we will get with our legal counsel”.

While Clarksville's superintendent spoke out against the attorney general's opinion, another superintendent said McDaniel's finding reflects administrators' own thoughts in Bentonville.

"The attorney general's decision kind of aligns with where we stood as a school district, where we just didn't think it was appropriate to arm our own staff with guns," said Bentonville Superintendent Michael Poore.

The attorney general's opinion was issued in response to written questions McDaniel received from state Rep. Hank Wilkins (D - Pine Bluff) concerning whether state law prohibited schools from arming their teachers and staff.

(Click here to see the attorney general's opinion on the issue.)

Former Congressman from Arkansas and the National Rifle Association's School Safety Chairman Asa Hutchinson spoke out Thursday against McDaniel's decision, saying he wanted the issue to be thoroughly discussed before any action was taken.

"(It's of) great concern because it impacts not just Clarksville and their plans, but numerous schools," Hutchinson told 5NEWS. "I thought there should have been more discussion before such an opinion that adversely impacts so many schools comes out, so I'm still looking it over."

Hutchinson is a declared Republican candidate for governor. Other Republicans running for governor include Little Rock businessman Curtis Coleman and Rogers state Rep. Debra Hobbs.

Coleman released the following statement after McDaniel's opinion was issued:

"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.
 
"It has become abundantly clear to me that the only way to resolve this issue is for the Arkansas Legislature to pass a law allowing our school districts the local control they need to protect children, teachers and staff.  These decisions should be made by local parents, superintendents, teachers and school boards who have a vested interest in the day-to-day operations of their schools.  As a matter of fact, I’ve had superintendents share with me their desire for state government to just get off their backs; therefore, I have every intention of championing local control of schools as governor—not only on this issue—but on many others.  A key component of my education reform plan is loosening the State’s grip on our schools, and I will start spearheading this process on day one after taking office in January 2015."