Critics of the policies worry that encouraging teachers to arm themselves would lead to more violence in the classrooms and create a dangerous incentive for teachers to carry weapons to pad their paychecks.
”We are not law enforcement personnel and should not be seen in those roles,” said Lisa Morgan, president of the Georgia Association of Educators, one of the state’s largest teacher advocacy groups.
”It is not going to make our schools safer,” Morgan added. “I’m just horrified as to the things that could go wrong with a weapon in the classroom.”
Georgia has sought to arm more teachers before, with limited impact. A 2014 law allowed local school districts to decide whether to arm teachers and staff, though few have taken that step.
It’s not immediately clear how much the program Jones endorsed would cost, but state Senate leaders said they would seek an estimate from budget analysts.
State Sen. Max Burns, R-Sylvania, said arming more teachers could help schools save money in the long term if districts don’t have to hire as many security officers, who usually cost about $80,000 a year.
“I have school systems that have no school resource officers, and that’s a very troubling environment,” Burns said. “So the sheriffs in the communities will partner with school systems.”
Democrats have long said that tighter restrictions on who can buy firearms and where they can carry them is a more effective way to prevent mass shootings than bolstering security seemingly safe places like schools that have become scenes of violence.
Jones, who was elected last year to Georgia’s No. 2 job, is pushing the proposal as he aims to play a more influential role in state politics.
In his first legislative session as leader of the Georgia Senate, he helped push through several foster care initiatives and a new gang crackdown. He also presided over a failed effort to split Atlanta into two municipalities, bringing the Buckhead cityhood initiative to a vote even after Gov. Brian Kemp’s administration warned it would create a legal disaster.
And he fought for a rewrite of health care regulations that could have paved the way for a hospital in his hometown, potentially on land owned by his father, before opting to wait another year to press the issue. It was another break from Kemp, whose allies lobbied against the overhaul.
Jones, meanwhile, has tried to leverage his own base of supporters. He’s aligned with Donald Trump’s brand of politics and was the most prominent statewide Republican to win last year with the former president’s endorsement. (Trump, too, has advocated for arming teachers.)
The lieutenant governor was also the highest-ranking Republican to appear at the Georgia GOP convention earlier this year that featured an address from Trump. Kemp and other top officials boycotted the event.
With vast personal wealth and a direct line to Trump, Jones is expected to seek higher office in 2026, when the governor’s office and a U.S. Senate seat are up for grabs.
Proposals such as the plan he unveiled Wednesday could help him contrast himself from his rivals and stake an early claim on an issue that could factor prominently in his next campaign. They also could be designed to insulate him from political attacks.
Among his potential rivals is U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, a Democrat who pledged to enact new gun control legislation after the shooting death of her teenage son. She and other critics of expansive gun policies say arming teachers is misguided and dangerous.
“Georgia teachers should be armed with books and supplies, not guns,” McBath said. “For too long they have been forced to purchase school supplies with their own money. Instead of listening, Burt Jones is furthering his extremist agenda at the expense of our kids.”
Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC
Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC
Jones, for his part, said he would continue to object to firearms restrictions. Pressed Wednesday on whether he would back gun limits as part of his school safety initiative, he said: “We’re not talking about that. We’re just talking about trying to protect the school systems right now.”
Under the proposal, school districts would have to approve a firearms training regimen before it could be offered to teachers on a voluntary basis. Sponsors said it’s modeled after a Texas plan that would pay teachers to complete firearm courses.
The initiative is part of a trend of increased security at U.S. schools amid a spate of mass shootings, such as the 2022 massacre at Uvalde, Texas, where 19 children and two teachers were killed in one of the deadliest school shootings in the nation’s history.
A federal study showed that two-thirds of public schools now control access to school grounds, and an estimated 43% of public schools have a “panic button” or silent alarm installed. About 78% equip classrooms with locks. All are marked increases from the 2017-2018 school year.
The state has taken other measures aimed at improving school security. Earlier this year, Kemp signed a law mandating that schools carry out an annual active shooter drill involving teachers and students, although the latter group can opt out of the training.
And lawmakers have devoted tens of millions in one-time funds for school security grants since 2019, including a $115 million fund approved earlier this year that distributed school safety grants to Georgia’s K-12 schools.
Barrow County Sheriff Jud Smith, who endorsed Jones’ proposal, dismissed concerns that teachers who want to participate in the program wouldn’t be up to the task.
“We’re trusting these folks to teach our young people — our most valuable asset,” Smith said. “We’re going to trust them if they get this training, they can be armed and we have a force multiplier in case there is an incident that happens.”
Staff writer Ty Tagami contributed to this article.