School gun training bill OK’d by Colorado Senate committee

Most testimony comes from opponents

Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert, R-Parker, presented Senate Bill 5 to the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on Tuesday. The committee passed the bill 3-2, sending the measure to the full House. Enlargephoto

Luke Perkins/Durango Herald

Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert, R-Parker, presented Senate Bill 5 to the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on Tuesday. The committee passed the bill 3-2, sending the measure to the full House.

DENVER – A bill that would allow school district employees to carry firearms on campus was approved Tuesday by the Colorado Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee.

The 3-2 vote for Senate Bill 5 was along party lines, with both Democrats on the committee voting no. It goes to the Senate floor for a second reading in the coming week.

This vote was counter to most of the testimony during a public hearing.

Of 27 people who spoke, 17 were against it, eight were for it and two were listed as neutral or having questions.

Among the opponents were representatives from public interest organization like Ken Toltz, founder of Safe Campus Colorado.

Toltz said the bill was another attempt to force guns into public schools.

“This year, the sponsors came up with a slightly new twist for the same, old bad idea,” he said.

He said SB 5 represents a dangerous experiment in school security and noted the lack of elected school officials to support the bill on Tuesday.

“We citizens designate you, we designate you the responsibility for the public safety laws, we depend on you to embrace the responsibility regardless of your personal political ideology,” he said.

Scott Lynch of Denver said he believes the state should expand nonlethal de-escalation training to stop school shootings before they occur. If there was a need for employees to carry firearms, there should be some state standard instead of leaving these decisions to local districts, he said.

“I don’t think that concealed carry is an appropriate response or an appropriate tactic to address the issue of violence in schools,” he said.

Jane Dougherty of Littleton, and the sister of Mary Sherlach, who was among the staff killed in the December 2012 Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, was among those who spoke against SB 5.

“It no longer surprises me that the answer to gun violence that has plagued our state is always more guns, so I’m here again to oppose forcing guns into our school,” she said.

Dave Kopel, research director of the Independence Institute, and Dudley Brown, executive director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, favored the legislation.

Brown said the bill encourages schools to establish their own training requirements.

“Why not also create a framework where those teachers are trained, and not just teachers, employees are trained for self-defense,” he said.

Kopel questioned arguments against the bill, when other states have successful laws that allow districts to make these same decisions.

“The opponents have not addressed these decades of experience collectively in the 24 other states,” Kopel said.

For Brown, the bill represents an opportunity to make schools “hardened targets” by removing the gun-free zone, which is an invitation for criminals.

“Turn criminal-safe zones, what they currently are now, into danger zones for criminals,” Brown said.

Dougherty said the idea that school shootings occur because they are gun-free zones is a myth.

“This bill is based on the false idea that gun-free zones are a magnet for mass shooters, when in most cases, school shooters had a personal connection, and it had nothing to do with it being a gun-free zone,” she said.

Sen. Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, a committee member, pointed out a contradiction in that the sponsor wants more training for armed personnel on campuses, but places no framework around what would be required.

“There is in no way a mandate that we are requiring more guns in schools. We’re not requiring more training,” Holbert said in his opening remarks on Tuesday.

“If that’s what they can do right now, and that’s the problem I want to fix, doesn’t it seem that maybe putting a definition or requiring some minimum training for security guards in school would get to the root of that problem more efficiently?” Fenberg asked.

Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert, R-Parker, and the bill’s sponsor, said he has no desire to establish a minimum level of training as it would be another mandate on school districts.

“Let’s not use our rules, our expectations, for those rural school districts,” he said.

Sen. Lois Court, D-Denver, said the bill is really about societal values and makes the statement that guns make school safer.

“I don’t believe it, so I’ll be a ‘no’ vote,” Court said.

lperkins@durangoherald.com