Attorney General Dustin McDaniel issued an opinion late Thursday that could have an impact on several school districts just weeks before students head back to class.  Responding to a question from Democratic State Rep. Hank Wilkins of Pine Bluff, McDaniel stated that under current state law, schools cannot be licensed as private security companies in order to arm teachers and staff members to respond to school violence.

Republican Attorney General candidate David Sterling responded to the opinion saying:

“Based on my very limited review of the opinion, I believe we need to do whatever we can to protect our school children from senseless acts of violence like we’ve seen in Jonesboro, Columbine and Newtown. Disarming law abiding citizens in violation of the 2nd Amendment is not the answer. If current law does not authorize school districts to allow teachers and administrators to arm themselves to protect our children from such acts, I will ask the General Assembly to enact whatever is necessary to allow them to do so if they so choose. The law should allow school districts to voluntarily implement a program, with intensive training on firearm safety and procedures to quickly put down such a threat. This would simply be another tool to combat potential threats to our children, and I applaud the efforts of the Clarksville School District for their concerns for their students and efforts to protect them.”

Republican candidate Leslie Rutledge also released the following statement:

“It is my firm belief that our school districts should have every opportunity under the law to reasonably and responsibly ensure the safety of all those on school grounds. Our school districts should be able to utilize every tool at their disposal to protect Arkansas’s children. The legislature has addressed this specific issue with regard to public and private colleges and universities. Last spring, the legislature passed the Safe School Initiative Act to address some of these concerns; however, the implementation of critical parts of the Act is dependent on appropriation and funding. This Act could easily be modified to allow school districts to have certain employees of the district to become certified to work with local sheriffs and law enforcement. In light of today’s opinion by the Attorney General, it appears that the legislature needs to specifically address the issue as it applies to our schools. I will work with the members of the legislature to ensure that any laws they pass on this, or any other issue, are Constitutional and are vigorously defended.”

Democratic candidate Rep. Nate Steel tells me he is currently reviewing the opinion and will respond after he has a chance to read it more thoroughly.

UPDATE – As promised, Steel sends along a statement today, which seems to indicate he does not like the idea of arming teachers…

“I have long supported more law enforcement officers in school as resource officers in case of emergency. I think most members of the law enforcement community would tell you that it’s better to have a law enforcement officer carrying a firearm in school than a civilian, even with limited training.  Our teachers – along with students and parents – deserve a great deal of credit for raising Arkansas to fifth overall in the nation for public education.  We should be focused on supporting our teachers’ efforts to teach.  We have some of the best law enforcement in the country and we should engage them in a dialogue about school safety and how to improve it, including the option of trained law enforcement in our schools rather than armed teachers or volunteers.”

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Jason Tolbert is the moderator for his opinion blog, The Tolbert Report. He can be reached by e-mail at Jason@TolbertReport.com. Follow him on Twitter: @TolbertReport.

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