As I recently discussed here, a bill was filed in the last legislative session that would have allowed school districts to contract with existing staff to carry concealed weapons on campus and provide additional security. That bill failed, but as I’m sure you’ve read by now, that didn’t stop at least one Arkansas school district from trying to arm its staff. The Clarksville School District has reportedly spent $70,000 to train and arm several members of its staff for the upcoming school year, supposedly under the authority given in Arkansas Code Section 17-40-101, et seq, which authorizes the Arkansas Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies to issue licenses to private companies in order to provide armed security on their property. The Clarksville School District, as well as several other districts, have already been issued such licenses by the Board. This prompted one state senator to ask the Arkansas Attorney General for an opinion regarding the legality of a school district to arm its staff under such a license.
Last week, the AG issued this opinion stating that public school districts, as political subdivisions of the state, do not qualify as guard companies or otherwise private companies eligible to be licensed to employ staff as armed guards. The opinion emphasized that state law actually prevents teachers and staff from carrying firearms on school grounds. It was first reported that the Clarksville Superintendent, Dr. David Hopkins, had said that he would respect the AG’s opinion. However, it appears now, after consulting with the school district’s private attorney, that the school district publicly disagrees with the Attorney General and will push forward with its original plan to arm staff, unless of course, the Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies, which meets again later this month, withdraws the license it previously issued to the school district. If the license is withdrawn, the district presumably will appeal the decision to circuit court as allowed by state law.
It’s important to note that AG opinions such as this, though sometimes the subject of political debate in the media, are purely legal opinions researched and written by experienced attorneys, many of whom have worked for several Attorneys General regardless of political affiliation. These attorneys, some of whom I’ve know personally and professionally, do an excellent job of interpreting the law as written. I’m not naive enough to think that the AG himself cannot influence opinions, but it’s important to remember that those doing the researching and writing in that office are not politically motivated.