Pushing for armed school officers
Bill sponsored by suburban GOP senator wants police in city schools to have guns
Days after a staff member was shot inside a Baltimore public high school, Maryland Senate Republicans introduced legislation that would require city school police officers to carry their guns inside school buildings.
The legislation — sponsored by Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings, who represents Harford and Baltimore counties — would also apply to school resource officers across the state. It quickly picked up 10 co-sponsors, also Republicans.
Baltimore school police officers are currently allowed to carry their service weapons while patrolling outside buildings before and after school hours. But they are required to store their weapons in a secure location during the school day.
While the city school board recently rejected the idea of arming its police force inside schools, the district’s officers have long supported carrying guns all day. The recent high school shooting has led school board members to reopen the matter.
Jennings, however, said his bill is not a reaction to the shooting of a staff member at Frederick Douglass High School. He said his bill was already being drafted before the incident.
“I just believe police officers in schools should carry a gun,” Jennings said. “Some jurisdictions don’t allow it. If you’re a police officer, you should have your service weapon on you.”
On Feb. 8, a 25-year-old Baltimore man entered the lobby at Frederick Douglass and allegedly shot 56-year-old special education assistant Michael Marks twice in the torso. The suspect, Neil Davis, had come to the school to confront Marks about disciplining a family member who is a student at the school, according to charging documents. Davis has been charged with attempted first-degree murder and firearm violations.
Jennings’ legislation, introduced Wednesday, comes as the Baltimore school board is reconsidering the issue.
In January, the board unanimously voted to oppose a different state bill that would have enabled Baltimore school police to carry their firearms inside school buildings, effectively derailing the effort.
Del. Cheryl D. Glenn, a Baltimore Democrat who had sponsored that legislation, withdrew the bill, saying she couldn’t move forward without local support.
But after the shooting at Douglass, city school board members have said they would reconsider the position.
Baltimore is the only jurisdiction in Maryland with a sworn school police force. In surrounding counties, local police or sheriff ’s departments patrol schools and are allowed to carry their weapons inside school buildings.
Baltimore’s school police union has long pushed for a legislative change, arguing they need to be prepared to stop a mass shooting inside schools. But opponents — including students who protested against the legislation at the recent school board meeting — argue that the presence of armed police officers could put black children at risk.
One Douglass teacher, who was livetweeting while his classroom was on lockdown, later tweeted that the shooting has not changed his stance on the issue.
“I still do not want guns in schools,” Jesse Schneiderman posted. “To change the decision right now would be a knee-jerk reaction and an admission that listening to parents and kids is just lip-service.”
Jennings said he would push forward with the Senate legislation regardless of whether the school board again votes against the idea.
“We think differently,” he said. “I’m about protecting the children, making sure that you have law enforcement in the school who could protect the children should there be an incident.”
Jennings’ legislation currently has no Democratic co-sponsors. In Maryland’s Democratic-controlled General Assembly, Republicans cannot pass legislation without at least some bipartisan support.