AG Herring Says Lee County Cannot Arm Teachers

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring issued an official advisory opinion saying that Lee County cannot arm their teachers.

Lee County School Board unanimously passed a measure earlier this year allowing teachers to carry a firearm on school grounds. Herring wrote the opinion because the Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) “received an application from a Lee County School Board employee seeking temporary registration by DCJS as a prerequisite to appointment by the circuit court as an armed SCOP,” and DCJS asked for clarification. SCOPs (special conservators of the peace) are permitted by Virginia law to carry firearms. But Herring said that teachers cannot become SCOPs.

The conclusion of Herring’s official advisory opinion

Virginia law expressly limits who may possess firearms on school grounds for safety purposes, and the General Assembly declined to enact bills presented every year from 2013 through 2017 to extend this authority to school teachers and administrators. The General Assembly has provided ways  for schools to employ security personnel deemed to have met stringent training requirements who may possess firearms on school grounds in the execution of their duties as school safety personnel; however, these security personnel do not include armed SCOPs. For the reasons set forth above, I conclude that the Department of Criminal Justice Services cannot lawfully issue a temporary or valid registration for armed SCOPs with jurisdiction over public school grounds.

In the background of the opinion Herring mentions that schools have hired individuals for the purpose of school safety who can be armed guards. But Lee County, a rural county with a very small school budget, specifically listed a lack of funds as the reason behind the need to allow teachers to become SCOPs. Training and state certification are an important part of the process here.

Herring’s opinion is based on his interpretation that the effort to arm teachers makes teachers ineligible to become SCOPs. But that is not expressly written in the Code of Virginia. § 19.2-13. says

Effective July 1, 2002, no person employed by a local school board as a school security officer, as defined in § 9.1-101, shall be eligible for appointment as a conservator for purposes of maintaining safety in a public school in the Commonwealth.

The Code does not say anything about teachers employed by a local school board, only that school security officers can’t become SCOPs.

Schools in Virginia are “Gun-Free Zones.” But “Gun-Free Zones” are soft targets that do nothing other than add an additional charge to a perpetrator. And when a perp shots up a school, one an additional charge of possession of a fire arm in a Gun-Free Zone is entirely needless as the crimes from the shooting bring plenty of serious penalties.

State Senator Amanda Chase posted on Facebook her support for Lee County-

Our kids are sitting ducks in these “gun free zones” where only the bad guys carry guns, disobey the law and shoot up our schools. Let’s trust our teachers and protect our kids. Lee County, you’ve got my vote!

Lee County School Board voted unanimously for this plan and only teachers who want to become SCOPs can apply, no teacher who feels uncomfortable with a gun will be forced to carry one. Lee County’s elected officials have acted responsibly. The teachers in Lee County who choose to join this are acting responsibly. Attorney General Mark Herring is acting irresponsibly by preventing a local school board from doing what it needs to do to provide safety at their public schools.