OPINION: Reading, writing and packing heat

Lt. Gov. Burt Jones this week proposed paying teachers a $10,000-per-year bonus to carry a gun in Georgia schools.

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Lt. Gov. Burt Jones this week proposed paying teachers a $10,000-per-year bonus to carry a gun in Georgia schools.

Of all of the bad ideas that have come out of the state Legislature lately, and there have been plenty, Lt. Gov. Burt Jones’ proposal this week to pay teachers a $10,000-per-year bonus to carry a gun in Georgia schools stands out as singularly alarming.

Jones announced the idea at, of all places, an elementary school. Surrounded by lawmakers, law enforcement officials and the superintendent of Barrow County Schools, Jones said he’ll be backing a new school “safety” bill in the next legislative session.

The legislation would create a grant program to pay for more school resource officers and stricter standards for school safety, which are both largely embraced in education communities. But Jones also said the grants could be used by school systems for “training for people who are on staff here to make us better equipped.”

Although teachers have been allowed to carry guns in schools since 2014 if their system opts in to the idea, just three school systems in the state do. Jones’ proposal would take that a step further by paying teachers $10,000 every school year to be armed at school after firearms training, essentially acting as quasi-security guards.

State Sen. Clint Dixon, a Gwinnett County Republican, said the idea originated in Barrow County when the superintendent of schools told the senator he’d ideally like to have two school resource officers, or certified armed security personnel, per school to ensure students’ safety. But resource officers cost about $80,000 per year, so paying teachers to carry guns instead was presented Wednesday as a cheaper way to do the job.

“Look, if money was no object, it would be great if we could do that in every school system,” Jones said of having two officers per school. ”But we wanted to accommodate the school systems that want to take the initiative and take the state up on this offer.”

Others at the press conference stressed that the pay-to-pack program is entirely voluntary — if a teacher doesn’t want to carry a gun, they don’t have to.

But that doesn’t account for the many parents I heard from this week who would not want their child in a classroom where the teacher is carrying a weapon. “I don’t even like my son’s math teacher,” one texted me. “And I’m supposed to be ok with her having a gun?”

Jones was a vocal proponent of the “Parents Bill of Rights” during the last session, which lets parents review lesson plans and curriculum in their kids’ schools. He’s also planning to propose a bill to require parental consent for kids to have accounts on social media such as Instagram and TikTok. So I asked his office whether parents would also have the right to opt out of a classroom with a gun in it if a school system opts into Jones’ program.

But instead of answering my question, a Jones spokeswoman twice asked me a different question.

“Were parents allowed to opt their children out of classrooms that required masks?” she wrote. What COVID-19 protocols have to do with guns in schools, I’m not sure, but it does indicate that Jones’ embrace of the idea is more about politics than policy.

Although the lieutenant governor is still in the first year as the state’s second-in-command, the jockeying has already begun among ambitious politicos in the state to replace Gov. Brian Kemp when he leaves office in 2026. In a crowded Republican primary, there is no better issue to own than guns. Paying teachers to carry? It doesn’t get more “2A” than that.

As good as the politics might be for the idea in a Georgia GOP primary, what if Jones’ proposal makes classrooms more dangerous instead of less? What if a student grabs a teacher’s gun? What if a gun discharges by accident?

A survey of teachers nationwide conducted by the RAND Corp. found a majority think arming educators would make schools less safe, while 20% thought they would be safer. And that didn’t cover the idea of paying teachers to do it.

At the same press conference, Jones was also asked whether he is considering changes to gun laws in Georgia to prevent school shootings.

“No, no, no, we’re not talking about that,” he said. “We’re just talking about trying to protect the school systems right now.”

The idea may be alarming, but it’s not original. A recent Texas bill would have paid teachers $25,000 to be armed “sentinels” in schools, but the measure never passed the state Senate. Could it pass the Georgia Senate and House, too? It’s hard to say since House Republican leadership had not heard about the idea until Jones’ press conference Wednesday.

We can reasonably assume Democrats aren’t likely to get behind it.

“Burt Jones is offering teachers a $10,000 bonus/bribe if they buy a gun and take it to school with them,” state Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver of Decatur wrote on social media. “He’s kidding, right?”

I’ve never met a parent who didn’t want their children to be safe in their classrooms. So it would be welcome news if lawmakers could craft a more constructive approach to deal with the terrible reality of school violence that our children live with every day.

Conflict resolution classes for students would be a great place to start, since we hear over and over from law enforcement officials that they see the increase in gun violence accompanying a disturbing sense that reaching for a gun is the new fistfight when teenagers are involved.

Mental health funding, such as the legislation the state Senate blocked at the end of the last legislative session, is also essential, as is funding trained resource officers where schools ask for them.

But paying the Shakespeare teacher to be a part-time armed security guard — just in case? That’s just politics.

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