Feb. 28--SANTA FE -- A bill that would have allowed a limited number of New Mexico school employees to carry concealed weapons onto school grounds was rejected Wednesday, with opponents of the legislation claiming that taking guns into schools could do more harm than good.
Senate Education Committee members voted 6-3 to table the legislation, which was backed by the National Rifle Association.
Other states have also considered similar measures in the aftermath of a recent spate of deadly school shootings, including a Dec. 14 shooting spree at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that left 26 individuals -- 20 children and six adults -- dead.
The New Mexico bill's sponsor, Sen. Sue Wilson Beffort, R-Sandia Park, said her legislation would have allowed each of the state's 89 school districts to decide whether they wanted to allow up to three trained employees per school to carry concealed handguns. The presence of concealed weapons could serve as a deterrent to potential shooters, who would not know the identity and location of those carrying guns, she said.
"This is simply an added level of protection that would not be forced on school districts," Beffort said.
Under the most recent version of Senate Bill 230, school workers would have needed a valid concealed handgun license to be designated as one of the three employees allowed to carry a concealed weapon onto school grounds.
However, opponents of the proposal said they were worried about the potential consequences of taking more guns into schools. They expressed concern about the possibility of teachers carrying concealed handguns and argued such weapons could fall into students' hands.
"For a lot of us, the notion of schools being armed camps is really unsettling," said Sen. Bill O'Neill, D-Albuquerque.
While an NRA lobbyist and a representative of the New Mexico Sheriffs' Association voiced support for the measure, a state teachers union leader, retired educators and a minister spoke against it.
Diana Garcia Piro, principal of De Vargas Middle School in Santa Fe, said students at her school were frightened by the idea of concealed guns being brought into the school.
"The last thing that I want is additional guns in my building," she said.
New Mexico approved a law allowing for concealed carry of handguns in 2003, but individuals who undergo training and obtain a concealed carry license generally cannot take guns into schools, courthouses or bars.
The state currently has more than 831 public schools, according to the Public Education Department. Had the legislation debated Wednesday been approved, that could have meant nearly 2,500 gun-toting school employees.
After Tuesday's hearing, Beffort told the Journal she had received numerous e-mails on the issue of guns in schools and said she was not surprised by the strong reactions the bill provoked.
She also said similar legislation will likely be brought back to the Legislature in future years, while noting the state's proposed $5.9 billion budget for next year does not earmark money for additional armed guards, mental health counselors or new fencing for schools.
"I do feel this is an ongoing issue," Beffort said. "In the end, what is our liability as a state if an incident were to occur and we have done nothing ?"
Copyright 2013 - Albuquerque Journal, N.M.