School districts cannot be licensed as private security companies in order to arm teachers and staff members to respond to school violence, according to an opinion issued by Attorney General Dustin McDaniel (D) Thursday. In fact, school personnel who carry a gun on campus are breaking existing law, he wrote.

The non-binding opinion, which was requested by state Rep Hank Wilkins (D-Pine Bluff) affects a few Arkansas school districts that have been arming and training staff members. The Lake Hamilton School District has done so for years. Its superintendent, Dr. Steve Anderson, has said this is the best way for his rural district to respond to an active shooter until law enforcement personnel arrive.

Other districts, including Clarksville and Cutter Morning Star, have only recently begun arming and training staff members. Clarksville’s decision to arm staff members made national headlines.

McDaniel wrote that the law authorizes licensing as guard companies only private businesses intended to provide protection services “for another person.” That designation would not include a political subdivision such as a public school attempting to protect itself. Similarly, a school cannot consider itself its own “security department of a private business.”

McDaniel wrote that existing statutes actually prohibit anyone from carrying guns on campus, on a school bus, or at a bus stop except law enforcement officers and registered commissioned security guards.

McDaniel said he could not speak to a question by Wilkins as to whether personnel who have been carrying firearms on campus under existing school policies could be prosecuted. That decision, he said, “lies solely within the discretion of a prosecutor.”

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