Wolf signs bill regulating armed school security over calls for veto

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signs the main appropriations bill in a $34 billion budget package that passed the Legislature this week at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., Friday, June 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Gov. Tom Wolf signed a bill Tuesday clarifying the requirements for security personnel in Pennsylvania schools to carry firearms, despite pressure from gun control activists to veto the measure.

In a written statement, the governor said his administration worked closely with the Legislature to ensure that SB 621 would not allow teachers to be armed.

"This bill will make training requirements for armed security stricter, more comprehensive and based on modern practices for security, trauma and other essential skills and knowledge for security personnel," he stated.

State Sen. Mike Regan, R-Dillsburg, was the bill's primary sponsor.

"My true belief is that, at the end of the day, part of the Democratic Party just doesn’t want a gun in school for any reason by anybody, whether it be a seasoned police officer or a trained security guard," Regan said.

In order to carry a firearm under the new law, school security guards hired as independent contractors or through third-party vendors must complete the basic school resource officer training through the National Association of School Resource Officers or an equivalent course offered by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.

In its definition of an "independent contractor," the bill includes retired federal agents; retired state, municipal or military police officers; and retired sheriffs and deputy sheriffs.

School security guards must also be properly licensed to carry and certified under the state Lethal Weapons Training Act, and they must pass the state criminal background check required for school employees who have contact with children.

(School police officers and school resource officers are defined differently than school security guards, but all three designations are considered school security personnel.)

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The state Commission on Crime and Delinquency is responsible for certifying approved third-party vendors and publishing a list of those vendors online, per the law.

But opponents worry some school districts will use the law as a back door to arm teachers in the classroom.

SB 621 amended portions of Act 44, a 2018 school security law.

One sentence in Act 44 defined a school security guard, in part, as someone who "is not engaged in programs with students at the school."

That phrase was removed in SB 621 — and this could allow teachers, who are technically engaged in programs with students in school, to qualify as security guards and carry firearms, said Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFirePA, a gun control advocacy group.

"If I believe that I can keep my students safe by carrying," Goodman said, "what’s to stop me from going through the security guard training and becoming a security guard as well?"

The language that barred school security guards from being "engaged in programs with students" was removed in the new law because lawmakers found there were some school entities that wanted their security personnel to be involved in safety and security programs with students, said Erin Marsicano, legislative director for Regan.

"It was a simple matter of taking out that language, recognizing that school security guards are not necessarily just standing at the door," Marsicano said.

Goodman said she realizes that Regan and the governor are not trying to find a roundabout way to arm teachers, but she worries some school districts will exploit the bill's language for that purpose.

CeaseFirePA advocates for expanding background checks, requiring safe storage of firearms and banning high-capacity magazines and certain semi-automatic rifles, such as the AR-15.