A little more than a month after a shooting inside a Baltimore high school, the city’s delegation to the House of Delegates considered a bill Friday that would allow school police officers to carry guns while patrolling inside schools.
Similar legislation, sponsored by Del. Cheryl Glenn, was withdrawn earlier this session, after the local school board unanimously voted to oppose the idea.
But after a staff member at Frederick Douglass High School was injured in a Feb. 8 shooting, the board reversed its position, and Glenn reintroduced her bill with a new fervor.
The city’s delegation didn’t take action Friday, but Glenn called another meeting for Saturday morning, and a vote is expected then.
Under current law, the city’s roughly 100 school police officers are allowed to carry their guns while patrolling outside schools before and after class hours. But they are required to store their weapons in a secure location during the school day.
Baltimore is the only jurisdiction in Maryland with a sworn school police force. In surrounding districts, county police officers or sheriff’s deputies patrol schools and are allowed to carry their guns.
Baltimore parents, community members and legislators have long been divided on whether school police should be allowed to carry their guns during the school day, with each side convinced their belief represents the best way to keep children safe.
Some say the Douglass shooting is proof that officers must be armed, so they can protect students and staff from an attack by an outsider. They argue that the school police office force is highly trained and its members should not be treated differently from their suburban counterparts. A school board member testified Friday in support of the bill.
“We’re facing a lot of external threats that we’re really not equipped to deal with in schools where we don’t have armed school police officers...,” school Police Chief Akil Hamm said. “I can’t ask somebody that doesn’t have a gun to confront somebody with a gun.”
But those against arming school police believe doing so would reinforce a school-to-prison pipeline and endanger black children, in particular. They say putting guns into schools won’t make them more secure, pointing to U.S. school shootings that took place in buildings where there were armed guards.
The ACLU of Maryland, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Parent and Community Advisory Board and Baltimore Algebra Project have all come out against the legislation.
“The presence of guns in school negatively impacts children’s ability to learn,” said Dana Vickers Shelley, the ACLU of Maryland’s executive director. “They do not make children safer.”
Both sides see the city’s pervasive violence as backing up their claims. Those opposed to the legislation say it’s unconscionable to put more guns into the lives of city children; those in favor say Baltimore’s issues seep into schools and have to be handled realistically.
The shooting at Douglass loomed large over the hearing. On Feb. 8, police say, the 25-year-old relative of a student entered the school and shot special education assistant Michael Marks, according to police. The 56-year-old longtime staffer was seriously injured but survived. Neil Davis is charged with attempted murder.
Marks has said that he believes officers should be armed.
Del. Brooke Lierman questioned whether the law ought to be changed based on one incident, a move some in the community have criticized as a knee-jerk reaction.
“I’m concerned,” she said, “about fact that this bill and the board’s decision is 100 percent in response to what happened at Douglass.”
Because the bill would only affect the city, the House delegation’s decision will largely determine the legislation’s path. A bill from Senate Republicans that would accomplish the same outcome has not yet progressed.