Arming teachers hot topic during candidates’ forum

As the May 15 primary inches closer, many political candidates are working to get their names and viewpoints out there.

Candidates for the 79th and 80th state House districts were among those discussing issues dominating the media, including school safety at a forum hosted by the Blair County Tea Party at the Bavarian Hall on Tuesday evening.

Republican candidates Sharon Bream and Lou Schmitt for the 79th District attended as did Republican candidates Christopher Creek and Jim Gregory for the 80th District. Laura Burke, who is running for the 80th District, was the only Democratic candidate at the forum.

Multiple candidates expressed support for arming certified teachers as a way to enhance school safety.

“I don’t have any problems with that so long as they are certified and trained and know what they are doing,” Schmitt said.

Although Bream also supports arming teachers, she said there will be and has been resistance from unions. “I’m in total agreement with arming teachers,” Bream said. “I think we need to stop making our schools gun-free zones because that is exactly where these cowards with guns go.”

Bream added it should be a voluntary process for trained teachers and that it shouldn’t be known to the school district which teachers are armed.

In response to a superintendent’s suggestion to arm students with river rocks, Creek said everyone can agree that student safety is a concern and the question surrounding school safety is just a matter of what we protect students with. He said there should be additional armed officers until common ground is met.

Meanwhile, Gregory stressed the topic of school safety is not a gun issue but a mental health issue.

“I’m supporting the Second Amendment from the time I wake up until the time I go to sleep,” Gregory said. “The mental health of our nation, of our communities, of our state is not what it needs to be to take care of people in our communities today.”

Burke didn’t explicitly state whether or not teachers should be armed, but discussed prioritizing 911 calls and quicker response times from law enforcement. She also threw out the idea of offering comprehensive gun safety courses.

“It is about safety, about gun safety,” Burke said. “I think having these classes as part of the public education curriculum would go a long way to demystify, stopping kids from playing with guns.”

Other topics discussed at the forum included the opioid epidemic, welfare reforms, agriculture and the dairy industry, economic development and the state budget.