by Max Brantley
We've written this week about the Clarksville School District, the most aggressive user of the law, which has spent $50,000 on training and provided $1,100 stipends to more than 20 staff members so they may carry concealed weapons in the 2,400-student district as a security measure against "active shooters."
A few other school people around the state have also availed themselves of the training and plan to have weapons on campus. Lake Hamilton, for example, has trained several administrators who have access to guns kept under lock. But Clarksville plans to disperse its armed members in classrooms, with weapons carried in concealed holsters. This goes even farther than the NRA call for more guns in schools, advanced by Republican gubernatorial nominee Asa Hutchinson, who's said teachers should teach and not be part of the armed contingent.
The opinion says these school districts have been designated as private companies": Ashdown Public School District Clarksville School District, Concord School District, Cutter Morning Star School District, Fort Smith Public School District , Lake Hamilton School District, Lee County School District #1, Little Rock School District, Nettleton Public Schools (Jonesboro), Poyen Public Schools, Pulaski County Special School District, Westside Consolidated School District #5 (Jonesboro)
Attorney general opinions are not binding, but the one he issued today says the law doesn't allow what Clarksville plans, though the opinion wasn't specifically directed at that district. I have a question out to Clarksville Superintendent David Hopkins for a response to the opinion, requested by Rep. Hank Wilkins of Pine Bluff.
The summary is on the jump (and here's full opinion), but the key finding is that McDaniel believes law and rules of the Arkansas Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies authorized private businesses to hire private armed security. "It does not authorize the licensing of a political subdivison such as a school district, whch is neither in itself "private" nor authorized to establish a separate 'private' identity. Simply put, the code opinion does not authorize either licensing a school district as a guard company or classifying it as a private business authorized to employ its own teachers as armed guards."
McDaniel said various other statutes restrict school employees from carrying guns on school grounds. It would be up to a prosecutor to decide "how to proceed against an individual who, in reliance on an invalidly issued commission, has violated the laws prohibiting the carrying of firearms on school grounds."
McDaniel observed that school districts could still contract with private security companies or have law enforcement "resource" officers. The General Assembly could also choose to modify the law, he noted.
Wilkins, Henry "Hank", IV
May a school district be a "private company" that employs commissioned security officers pursuant to A.C.A. 17-40-201, et seq., and the regulations promulgated by the Arkansas Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies? Q2) If the answer to q1 is "yes": (a) Will the school district and its employees be entitled to sovereign immunity for actions taken pursuant to the license? (b) Must the school obtain bonding as other private security companies do? (c ) May the school district earn money for the activities of their employees who act as security guards when not on campus, since the state says they are now "private companies" and, if so, can the state reduce their foundation funding in an amount equal to what they bill when they are acting as a security company rather than a school district? (d) Do Department of Education regulations prohibit students in public schools from being taught by private security guards instead of licensed teachers? Can an individual be both at one and the same time? Q3) If the Board does not have authority to issues these licenses: (a) Does any law prohibit teachers, bus drivers, and others from carrying firearms on school grounds? (b) Can those persons avoid prosecution for breaking those laws on the grounds that they held security guard licenses that were invalid?
RESPONSE: Q1) In my opinion, the answer to this question is "no." The chapter of the Code here at issue authorizes the licensing of private businesses to provide armed security to clients. It does not authorize the licensing of a political subdivision such as a school district, which is neither in itself "private" nor authorized to establish a separate "private" identity. Simply put, the Code in my opinion does not authorize either licensing a school district as a guard company or classifying it as a private business authorized to employ its own teachers as armed guards. Q2) Given my response to your first question, this question is moot. Q3)(a) Various statutes restrict the recited school district employees from carrying firearms on school grounds. (b) It lies solely within the discretion of a prosecutor to determine whether or how to proceed against an individual who, in reliance on an invalidly issued commission, has violated the laws prohibiting the carrying of firearms on school grounds. I will not presume to anticipate or second-guess the exercise of that discretion. This opinion does not address questions regarding school districts contracting with properly licensed private security companies or school resource officers. Also, certainly, the General Assembly would be the proper entity to retain, repeal or modify the current laws prohibiting school employees from carrying firearms on school property, such power not residing with the Arkansas Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies.