Montana panel considers letting school workers carry guns
Thu, 02/23/2017 - 5:00am admin
By Bobby Caina Calvan, Associated Press
Montana legislators turned their focus Feb. 14 on allowing school employees to carry concealed weapons on campuses and allowing lawmakers to arm themselves when conducting business at the state Capitol.
Legislators said both measures were meant to defend against active shooters.
On a 53-47 vote, the Republican-controlled House voted to advance a bill that would allow legislators to carry concealed weapons on state property, including the Capitol.
Earlier in the day, the House Judiciary Committee heard testimony on a bill that one Montana legislator said would make schools safer by allowing employees with concealed weapons permit to bring their firearms to campus. Republican Rep. Seth Berglee of Joliet argued that his bill would allow school employees to “defend and protect” students.
Berglee said his bill would not require anyone to carry a gun and would not allow students to bring firearms to campus.
A parade of parents and educators argued that guns on campus could lead to tragic consequences – particularly if mishandled by an employee under the duress of a crisis or if the gun found itself in the hands of a student.
“It’s too easy to make a mistake when it comes to guns in schools. ... It only takes one mistake,” said John Moffatt, who was shot in 1986 when a student opened fire at Fergus High School in Lewistown, where Moffatt was the vice principal. A substitute teacher was killed.
He described that fateful day and when he encountered the 14-year-old shooter.
“We passed each other in the hall in a matter of a second,” he recounted. “And at that time, he raised the gun and he shot me in the abdomen. I was severely wounded. I was down on my hands and knees on the floor.”
He doubts whether an armed school employee would have been effective in thwarting the shooter.
“I know absolutely that there was nothing I could have done even had I been armed at that time,” he said.
Moffatt was joined by more than a dozen people from a group calling itself “Moms Demand Action,” a national organization seeking to curb gun violence in the wake of the December 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. A gunman shot and killed 20 young children and six adults.
According to the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, there have been at least 215 school shootings in the United States since 2013. But despite the spate of campus shootings, the group argues that schools remain safe.
“The argument is that we don’t need it. We don’t need guns. But what happens when we do?” said Berglee, a reserve police officer in Red Lodge.
Berglee was also one of 35 legislators sponsoring the bill allowing lawmakers to carry concealed arms on state property.
Rep. Randy Brodehl, a Republican from Kalispell, said the only defense now available against an active shooter is the exit doors that lead out of the House floor.