Legislation pending in the South Dakota Senate aims to boost school safety. If passed, the bill would grant principals the authority to allow armed adults with concealed carry permits on campus.

Senate Bill 203, sponsored by Sen. Bret Hoffman, R-Hartford, cleared the Senate Judicial Committee by a unanimous vote on Thursday, despite opposition from school lobbying groups including the Associated School Boards of South Dakota and others, the Argus Leader reports.

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“Thirty-two states already allow some type of concealed carry on school grounds with some restrictions,” Hoffman told the committee.

The legislation would allow principals to approve qualifying individuals over the age of 21 with an enhanced CCP to bring their guns on campus. It’s similar to a school sentinel program that has not been well utilized since lawmakers approved the program in 2013. The 80-hour training program – which uses school employees, hired security or volunteers who must meet numerous requirements –  was canceled in 2022 due to a lack of interest.

SB 203 and an identical measure in the House come in response to the Senate Education Committee rejecting a bill to require all schools to use the sentinel program or a school resource officer, according to the news site.

“I’d like the committee to consider this policy as a last-chance, reactive measure for an armed response to a violent threat,” Hoffman said, according to South Dakota Public Radio.

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Doug Wermedal, executive director for the Associated School Boards of South Dakota, doesn’t like the bill.

“If bad actors are able to gain control of a law enforcement officer’s gun in a confrontational situation, then certainly it’s possible the control of a weapon could be lost to a bad actor,” he said. “That will certainly present itself in our schools at some point and become more likely under this bill. What problems are we solving that is worth the additional risk?”

Wermedal told the committee he would rather give school superintendents the say in allowing those with enhanced concealed permits to carry on campus, instead of principals.

“It isn’t only a matter for firing off 98 rounds and being confident in your marksmanship, it isn’t only a matter of carrying according to the law,” he said, the Argus Leader reports.

Several lawmakers shared a different perspective.

“We know for a fact that the no gun zones don’t work,” said Rep. Kevin Jensen, R-Canton, sponsor of the House version of the bill. “That’s where people go if they’re looking to cause trouble.”

Hoffman noted that Wermedal represents school boards, not the students and parents who have emailed him to advocate for improved safety in schools.

“Bear in mind, I mean no disrespect to our school board associations, but they represent the association,” he said. “They’re not representing the schools, all of them, and they’re not necessarily representing the students.”

For Sen. Jim Mehlhaff, R-Pierre, the benefits of the bill outweigh any risks.

“Recently, whenever you read of a school shooting, you always hear of a heroic principal, coach or janitor who confronted the gunman with their bare hands and were among the first to die as they went to protect the kids under their charge,” Mehlhaff said. “To me, I don’t think having responsible people who have been checked out, carrying a weapon, is a danger to public safety.”

A total of 20 states allow anyone with permission to carry guns in schools, three allow with a CCP, four require a CCP and permission, seven permit school employees with training, 23 allow for armed school security, 45 allow armed law enforcement, and one – New Hampshire – only prohibits students, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures’ guns in schools tracker.

Hawaii is the only state that doesn’t address the issue in statute, the nonprofit reports.