INDIANAPOLIS — While legislators in other states are wrestling with the idea of allowing teachers to carry guns in school, those in Indiana already can.
A state law that makes schools gun-free zones exempts anyone who has been employed or authorized by a school "to act as a security guard, perform or participate in a school function, or participate in any other activity authorized by a school."
School safety consultant Chuck Hibbert , a former Indiana state trooper, said he discussed the law with state Department of Education officials earlier this year, before a gunman went on a shooting spree last week and killed 26 people in Newtown, Conn. They concluded schools could designate teachers or other employees as security officers and allow them to be armed.
"I guess theoretically, the school district could designate everyone (as security officers) if they wanted to be that crazy," Hibbert said.
Lawmakers in at least five states have proposed arming teachers so they can defend students following last week's shootings in Newtown. Republican state Sen. Jim Tomes said Thursday that he had planned to introduce similar legislation in Indiana, but then he learned that state law already permits teachers to carry guns in some situations.
"I guess it's actually a policy decision," Tomes said, adding that he believes the option is one that school officials around the state should consider.
"I believe it really has an immediate effect on these things happening, or at least happening to this degree," Tomes said.
Katie Stephens, a spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Education, said she didn't know of any school district in the state that allowed teachers to carry guns, and other experts agreed.
"I have never heard of anybody doing that, other than the school safety officer," said Jim Freeland, executive director of the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents.
Tomes and other gun-rights advocates emphasized that they don't think teachers should be required to carry guns, merely that they should be given the option. And, they said, anyone who carries a gun in school should be extensively trained.
"The last thing you want is untrained people with guns in schools," said Guy Relford, who has filed lawsuits to make sure local governments and employers comply with state laws that allow concealed carry or let people keep guns in their cars at work.
Relford, who is also a firearms instructor, said in light of the Sandy Hook shootings he is offering free classes to people with proper gun permits who are authorized by a school to carry a weapon.
Others said having guns in school is a bad idea regardless of who is carrying them.
"I don't think that proliferation of firearms on school property is good for kids," said Nate Schnellenberger, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association.
Hibbert, the former state trooper, said arming teachers could have serious consequences. For example, he said, where would a teacher keep a gun — in his or her desk or in a holster? What if the teacher had to break up a fight? A student might be able to take the gun away. And if a gun is fired, where should the teacher aim to avoid a stray bullet hitting someone?
"I do respect the fact that schools feel they have to do something," Hibbert said. But, he added, "Arming teachers to me would be the last step rather than the first step."