Cherokee County School District Police Chief Mark Kissel was elected last Monday to serve as president of the Georgia Association of Secondary School Law Enforcement Executives.
Since his election, Kissel has already hand-delivered Gov. Nathan Deal and House Speaker David Ralston (R- Blue Ridge) correspondence informing the state leaders that his organization opposes a proposed bill to allow school district officials to authorize one or more qualified employees to possess or carry a firearm on school grounds.
Kissel said he helped found the law enforcement association in 2005 and his election last Monday marks his third term heading the organization. He said the group includes about 32 members representing 26 school districts across Georgia.
House Bill 35, which is awaiting review by the state House Rules Committee, was introduced by Rep. Paul Battles (R-Cartersville). The House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee approved the bill last week.
At present, school campuses throughout Georgia are weapon-free zones with very few exceptions under state law. HB 35 would allow school districts to designate employees who volunteer to carry a firearm, requiring each designee to have a background check, weapons carry license and “sufficient training” in pistol shooting, marksmanship and a review of current laws relating to the use of force for the defense of self and others.
“In listening to most of our membership, (members from) most school districts are opposed to (HB 35),” Kissel said.
Kissel said he and other members discussed certain unintended consequences that come from not specifying gun training standards or proficiency requirements as well as determining liability in shooting incidents as their main issues with the bill.
“School districts are left to surmise training and proficiency standards,” Kissel said.
He added part of the legislative piece essentially allows training exemptions for employees with prior military of law enforcement service. Kissel said the bill did not adequately identify the type of firearm training or length of prior service to allow for such an exemption.
Another portion of the bill the organization took issue with was the ambiguous determination of the manner in which an employee is required to conceal a weapon when on their person, Kissel said.
According to the bill, any employee authorized to carry a weapon must carry it in a holster on the person. Otherwise, the weapon must be in a secured lock safe or lock box that cannot be easily accessed by students.
“With interest mounting in the public and private sector for safe schools across the United States, it’s in the best interest of our (school) communities for the school police chiefs to be of one-mind and one-voice to ensure that students and staff have a safe and secure environment for teaching and learning,” Kissel said.
In his role as CCSD police chief, Kissel said he has spoken with Superintendent Dr. Frank Petruzielo about the arming of staff members. Members of the CCSD Board of Education were provided a legislative update, which included information about HB 35, during the Jan. 17 work session.
The bill also states that it would not mandate any individual school system to require a member of personnel to carry a firearm, nor would it create liability for a school board to adopt the practice.
However, Kissel said school systems may run into issues regarding liability if a personnel-involved shooting does occur.
“The real rubber meets the road when you say you’re going to do it,” Kissel said of school boards that may vote to implement the practice. “When you arm (personnel), you’ve got liability... A hundred questions can attach itself to any and all of that.”
Kissel said he doesn’t believe legislators intended to have administrators or school employees make life-or-death decisions or have to defend their actions in a court of law.
As of Wednesday, Kissel said he has not received a response from Deal or Ralston about the letter.
Petruzielo commended Kissel for his election as the association’s president, recognizing him as the driving force behind the district police department’s state and national recognition as a premier law enforcement organization.
“He and his officers are dedicated to the school board’s major system priority of maintaining a safe and secure environment for teaching and learning, and that is greatly appreciated,” Petruzielo said. “Chief Kissel often is called upon to share his expertise with other school systems throughout the state and nation; and through that service, as well as in his role as (GASSLEE) president…he is an outstanding representative for the school district and our entire community.”