Harford delegate files bill to allow school employees to carry guns

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Harford County Del. Rick Impallaria has filed in a bill in Annapolis that would give public school districts across the state the authority to allow “certain, select” employees to carry firearms on school property to prevent or minimize the loss of life in a school shooting.

“The bill is very simple,” Impallaria, a Republican, said. “All we’re doing is giving authority to those school systems to put this into practice.”

House Bill 760 was scheduled to be introduced in the House Judiciary Committee Thursday. With a short title “Handgun Permits and Carrying Weapons on School Property,” the bill synopsis states: "Authorizing a county board to authorize school employees in the county board's school system to carry a handgun on school property only if the handgun is secured on the person's body; requiring the Secretary of State Police to issue a handgun permit to a person who is otherwise qualified and who is a school employee in a certain school system; etc.”

In a news release issued Jan. 24 about his intentions to sponsor the legislation, Impallaria cited a recent school shooting in Kentucky that left two students dead, as well as incidents involving guns and threats of violence at Perry Hall High School, the later which is in Impallaria’s legislative district, as is the western side of Harford County.

Impallaria represents District 7, along with Republican Dels. Pat McDonough and Kathy Szeliga.

A Perry Hall student was injured in a shooting at the school in 2012. Baltimore County Police responded to a fight in the school’s parking lot earlier this month, which was captured in a viral video, and an 18-year-old man who appeared in the video carrying an Airsoft pellet gun was arrested, The Baltimore Sun reported.

Harford County Board of Education President Joseph Voskuhl, who stressed he was speaking for himself, said he would “never support” legislation to allow guns on school property.

“[There are] too many chances of an accidental injury occurring,” Voskuhl said Monday.

Voskuhl said HCPS safety and security staff are “always updating” their protocols and review incidents such as the Kentucky shooting.

“They look at every incident that happens and see what they need to do [in Harford County],” he said.

Impallaria said school districts would not be forced to allow their employees to carry weapons. The legislation allows them to work with law enforcement and set up a program through which select employees, such as former law enforcement or military who have firearms training, to carry a weapon in schools.

“Why not make sure that our schools have that extra security that if, God forbid, something did go wrong, there is someone on the premises that can respond in seconds rather than minutes,” he said.

Impallaria said “it makes it less likely” that someone will carry out a shooting if they know there could be armed teachers or staff at a particular school.

“You’re never going to be 100 percent able to prevent something like this, but you can try to deter it from happening and you can try and prevent it from escalating,” he said.

Impallaria introduced a similar bill, House Bill 611, during the 2017 General Assembly session. That bill listed McDonough and Republican Del. Trent Kittleman, who represents Carroll and Howard counties, as co-sponsors.

Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler testified in support of the bill last year, but it did not make it out of the House Judiciary Committee, Impallaria said Tuesday.

He said he expects more support from around the state for the bill this year.

Church gun bills

Szeliga and Harford Republican Sen. Wayne Norman, are working on legislation that would allow parishioners to carry handguns in their houses of worship, provided they have written authorization from the church and a state-issued handgun qualification license. This effort is also backed by Gahler.

House Bill 758, with Szeliga as the primary sponsor, was introduced earlier in the week and a first reading before the Judiciary Committee was scheduled Thursday.

Short titled “Public Safety – Handgun Permit – Church or Religious Organization Property,” HB-758’s synopsis states: “Authorizing a person who has the consent of a bona fide church or religious organization to carry a handgun on the property of the church or religious organization during certain events and has the intent to wear, carry, or transport a handgun for certain purposes on the property of the church or religious organization to, without a permit, carry a handgun on the property of the church or religious organization during certain events and transport a handgun to and from certain church or religious organization events; etc.”

Norman’s version, Senate Bill 156, was introduced and referred to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Jan. 15; a hearing scheduled for Jan. 24 was canceled, according to the General Assembly website.

Plans to introduce the two legislators dubbed the “Parishioner Protection Act of 2018,” which has the support of some members of the Harford County clergy, were announced last month. Gahler said at the time that he wants legislators to pursue a solution in Annapolis in light of extensive concerns among Harford’s faith community about massacres in churches in other states, as well as a deadly workplace shooting in Edgewood last fall.

Active shooter workshops hosted by the Sheriff’s Office and the Aberdeen Police Department in late 2017 were well attended by members of the public seeking ways to protect themselves.

Impallaria, whose brother is a Harford Sheriff’s Office deputy, said law enforcement officials know the difficulty of getting to a shooting scene in time to stop the incident.

“The chances of them showing up while [a suspect is] still an active shooter are very slim,” he said.

This story is updated from an earlier version to reflect the formal introduction of two of the bills mentioned.

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