by Max Brantley
I'm about done I think. So here's an open line. Finishing up:I gather from an interview with AP that he's not happy about an attorney general opinion that his plan to put about 20 staff and teachers in classrooms with concealed weapons this fall isn't allowed by state law. He criticized the "failed policy of lock the door and hide" as a security measure against armed intruders.
The opinion is only advisory, of course. Clarksville could find a means to challenge it, beginning with an appearance before a coming meeting of the state board that certifies private businesses to employ armed security guards. That board, which meets next week, could continue to license a variety of school districts as it already has, rather than revoke those permissions, and set up a challenge of the policy. Several legislators would like to allow the practice in law, but no legislative session — and then only a fiscal session — is to occur until January. Hopkins is sincere. He's found himself, probably unexpectedly, in a sudden media spotlight, including national TV exposure. It's a discombobulating thing.
UPDATE: I finally found a way around the computer glitches that were hampering communication with Dr. Hopkins and had a good talk with him late this afternoon. The District, for the time being, is "standing down" on implementation of use of armed staff. It will be watching to see what the Arkansas Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies does at its future meetings on continuing to uphold its earlier grants of licenses or revoke them in light of the opinion. If Clarksville's is revoked, Hopkins said, then the district will confer with counsel about whether to challenge it. But he said, realistically, that a legislative solution was the most likely course of action.
He said he'd put a pencil to costs today and tallied $68,000 spent on training and stipends and travel. But he emphasized that cost was a startup cost and wouldn't continue each year.
Hopkins said he tends to think the part of the law that the attorney general opinion addressed — licensing for "private businesses" — wasn't meant to bar public agencies from having their own staff as armed security, but to distinguish between security agencies that rent officers to business and businesses that employ their own staff members to be armed security. In his view, the district has a license and its employees are commissioned, and trained far beyond the level required for a simple security guard, including with instruction from SWAT experts. Several other districts have been similarly licensed, but Clarksville proposed the most expansive use of the power to date.
"We tried to put together a program where we had really competent people with excellent training to work with the police on how to handle a situation if something occurred," he said. "We were trying to do it right."
Hopkins said he'd e-mailed all his "team members" and informed them not to bring guns on campus. "We're in a holding position. We're waiting to see what the commission is going to do." He said the district respected the attorney general's opinion and would follow it as law for the time being.
Hopkins talked at length about the steps the district had taken in planning, including coordination with the police chief and local prosecuting attorney.
"We weren't trying to get attention," Hopkins said. "All we wanted to do was put together a plan that gave our kids an extra layer of protection."
Hopkins raised the question of whether the opinion could create a public for publicly operated hospitals that employ staff members for armed security. They don't face the additional complication, however, of being a school, where laws specifically address guns on campus.