A bill that would allow armed teachers in Nebraska schools prompts emotional testimony

A bill that would allow teachers and other staff in schools to be armed in the hopes of deterring school shootings drew dozens of people and some emotional testimony to the Nebraska Legislature’s Education Committee on Tuesday.

State Sen. Tom Brewer's bill is among the latest in GOP-led state legislatures across the country embracing bills expanding gun rights.

The Nebraska bill is made up of three parts. It would give local school boards the ability to allow off-duty law enforcement to carry guns onto school property and create detailed maps of schools' buildings and grounds to give to local law enforcement and first responders to use in the event of a school shooting.

It would also allow for teachers or other school staff to be armed, as long as they undertook gun handling and safety training.

The bill is needed in Nebraska's rural districts, Brewer said, where schools can be many miles away from the nearest law enforcement and rarely have access to resource officers that are prevalent in cities like Omaha and Lincoln.

At least 32 states have laws allowing teachers or other school staff to be armed during school hours, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. That includes all of Nebraska's neighboring states, including Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming and South Dakota.

“We are an island that has decided not to protect our children,” he said.

Most of those testifying in favor of the bill focused on its school mapping provision. Even opponents of the bill said they supported its school mapping.

But the sanctioning of armed school staff drew some emotional testimony, including from one teacher who was present for a deadly school shooting in Omaha 13 years ago.

Tim Royers, president of the Millard Education Association, told the committee he was in his school's lunchroom overseeing students on Jan. 5, 2011, when someone announced over the school's speakers, “Code Red.”

Royers and other teachers scrambled to gather as many students as possible and search for a room in which to hide.

“I will never forget the looks on those students’ faces,” he said.

Authorities later said that a 17-year-old student — the son of an Omaha police detective — had been suspended from Millard South High School, but he returned that same day with his father's service revolver. He fatally shot the assistant principal and wounded the school's principal before fatally shooting himself.

In the years since, he has never heard any educators express a desire to be armed, Royer said.

“But I've had plenty of them tell me that a provision like this would drive them out of the profession,” he said to the committee.

Brewer said those opposing the bill aren't being fair to schools in rural areas that “are unable to fill law enforcement positions, let alone resource officer positions.”

Brewer has long been an opponent of laws regulating guns. A bill that he pushed since he was first elected in 2016 to allow Nebraska residents to carry concealed guns without a permit was passed and enacted last year. Similar to other so-called constitutional carry laws in other states, it allows people to carry guns hidden in their clothing or vehicle without having to pay for a government permit or take a gun safety course.