While the number of bills that seek to limit or control aspects around guns and gun ownership have climbed since deadly shootings in Las Vegas last October; Parkland, FL in February; and near Houston, TX in May; State Representative John Becker has put forward his own solution to keeping students safe.
Becker’s bill, which he has dubbed the DEFEND-TWO (Decriminalization Effort for Ending Notorious Deaths – Teachers With Options), seeks to loosen carried conceal regulations in and around gun-free zones like schools, courts, and daycares.
“We either need to keep the guns out or we need people on the inside who can shoot back,” said Becker.
But Becker seems conflicted over if guns should be in schools or not; or at the very least isn’t being completely frank.
“I don’t want to see teachers armed. I don’t want to see anybody inside the school’s armed,” said Becker. “So what the schools need to do is make sure nobody has the guns going in.”
Becker says the way to do that is simple. “You set up metal detectors, you have security guards,” said Becker. “Or you allow people inside to carry firearms who are qualified to carry firearms if they so choose.”
Those security guards he talks about would have to be armed, according to his bill. So does he want guns in schools or not?
Becker’s contradictions don’t stop there.
“The bill does not spend any money. It doesn’t require anybody spend any money. It doesn’t require the schools or anybody else to do anything. It’s simple, if you want to keep guns out then get serious about it, put up the metal detectors, hire the security guards,” said Becker.
There is no getting around the issue that the bill does indeed require schools to do something. If turned into a law, its very existence prompts such a requirement through its own mandate.
So, schools will have to choose to either install metal detectors and post a minimum of two armed guards at every school entrance, and potentially have more armed guards on staff depending on the size of the student body; or they can allow staff to carry concealed guns and secure them in their classrooms.
Further there is ambiguity in the language used in the bill that leaves its interpretation open to debate.
The bill reads:
“If five hundred or more students are enrolled in a school and the school safety zone is to be secured, the school shall assign the following number of authorized persons to carry firearms at each student entrance in the school safety zone:
(a.)Three persons if there are five hundred or more but less than one thousand students;…”
The question arises as you count the number of student entrances in a school building. Not it does not say main entrance, or unlocked, or accessible entrance; it simply says each student entrance.
So, if the 500 student school has a main front door, a back door, and a couple of side doors, how many guards does there need to be?
If you read the bill as written, that would be 3 per door for 12 total armed guards. Becker says the intention was to have a minimum of 2 per door and any extra based on the number of enrolled students, which in this hypothetical would be eight total guards according to Becker; two for each of the four doors of a 500 student school, which is different than the 3 total guards for a school of 500 as others have interpreted the previous passage.
The number of guards escalates based on student population ballooning up to 9 armed guards for school of 3,500 or more students.
Because his bill does nothing to offset the cost of such an expensive endeavor, school districts may not even be able to consider the guards and metal detectors option; which in a sense doesn’t make it a realistic option at all and in that case the bill would in essence mandate staff should be allowed to carry concealed weapons in the school.
When asked who should be carrying the guns, Becker offered this. “I think the best people, not necessarily the teachers, maybe; but I think the best people are, frankly, the janitors,” said Becker.
He did go on to add Physical Education instructors and sports team coaches may be good options as well.
The bill also addresses the penalties for breaking the concealed carry laws by reducing them from felonies to misdemeanors in many cases.
Some readers at this point may be tempted to think there is little chance such a piece of legislation could get passed into law.
And in many ways that could be true; there is roughly three months of working time to get the bill through the normal legislative process where it goes through at least three public hearings in the House before getting voted through the chamber and repeating the process in the Senate before needing any concurrence vote if anything is changed prior to it heading to the governor’s desk for a signature.
If the bill were to take a normal legislative journey, there is so little time left before the end of the session that the likelihood of it passing that way is slim, and has been for other bills introduced up to two months ago for the same timing reason.
Then there is the controversial aspect of the bill. Public outcry from one side of the gun debate is expected to be high and the pressure put on lawmakers to make sure the bill dies could be significant.
But we are about to enter a special time in the lawmaking process that can take those two previous reasons and toss them out the window.
A true Lame Duck session, that starts right after the General Election in early November and ends as the General Assembly does on December 31st, comes around rarely.
The end of the General Assembly is usually a flurry of activity, but this year it could be real “interesting” as one lawmaker put it.
If Republicans lose the governorship this fall, their relative rubber stamp approval to legislation they pass will no longer be there when the next General Assembly begins in January.
That may be alright if they can maintain super-majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives. If they lose just one of their super-majorities the Republicans ability to override any gubernatorial vetoes becomes much harder. The super-majority in the House of Representatives is the most fragile due to every seat being up for re-election, while only 17 of the Senate seats face contests.
If those two things come to pass, the loss of the governorship and super-majority status, we could see extreme pieces of legislation being pushed hard as the control the Republicans have fades as this General Assembly comes to a close and the likelihood of compromise or deadlock increases.
This Lame Duck session is the target area for this bill, according to Becker.
He has no real plans to try and force the bill through the normal legislative process because he has a vessel to attach what he wants to pass already waiting in the Senate.
Earlier in the General Assembly Becker’s House Bill 233, which he calls DEFEND-I, passed out of the House and was sent to the Senate.
It is similar in many ways to this new bill focusing on concealed carry of guns.
Becker is hoping to have portions of DEFEND-TWO attached to DEFEND-I as amendments either in the Senate Committee hearing process, or after it is voted out of the Senate and sent back to the House for concurrence.
Becker believes that won’t happen until Lame Duck, which is when many bills will be stripped down and attached to other bills as amendments effectively circumventing the normal legislative process and open air public meetings where all sides have an opportunity to weigh in on the benefits and drawbacks of a particular piece of legislation.
This circumvention is shrugged off with the argument that in many cases legislative actions end up in the revised code and future lawmakers can simply change the laws if they need to, and in an ideal situation maybe that would happen, but shifts in political power and control are rarely ideal and seldom quick.
Normally, it would be the Governor that stands in the gap as a final check to the balance of power when it comes to lawmaking, but again super-majorities at the Statehouse can simply override his veto.
So in this particular situation where there is no reason to continue to court favor with the Governor because there will be no future consequence of denying his wishes; it may not matter if the Governor supports the bill or not.
The same can be said about a particular bill that outlaws all abortion with no exceptions.
There is one last piece of information about this situation that should be noted.
Speaking with the chairman of the committee Becker’s DEFEND-I bill is in, Sen. Coley told me it was not likely to see a hearing next week and that bill still needed “a lot of work.”
Whether that means the bill itself requires functional changes or if that is just a delaying strategy, to position the bill to receive amendments from DEFEND-TWO, is yet to be seen.
Either way, Becker seems to think his DEFEND-TWO proposals have legs and they shouldn’t be slept on.
The entire bill covers 54 pages of legislative code and until it has its first hearing, if it has a first hearing since it was filed after May 15 the cut-off for guaranteed hearings, an analysis of the bill that breaks down all of the changes it will make is unavailable.