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ARC: SURGE IN PUBLIC VIOLENCE

Insurers weigh risks of new Kansas law allowing school workers to carry guns

Sandy Hook Elementary School Shootings
Photo by GINA JACOBS/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM Sparked by December's mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and the National Rifle Association's subsequent call to arm teachers and other school employees, Kansas recently passed a state law that permits school districts to decide whether to allow employees with concealed-carry permits to bring firearms on campus.

Allowing public school employees to carry weapons on the job is getting the attention of insurers that cover school districts, though few districts have allowed teachers and administrators to carry firearms on school property.

Sparked by December's mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and the National Rifle Association's subsequent call to arm teachers and other school employees, Kansas recently passed a state law that permits school districts to decide whether to allow employees with concealed-carry permits to bring firearms on campus.

And state lawmakers in at least 34 states are considering — and seven of the states have passed — some form of legislation to protect students and school teachers by allowing teachers or administrators to carry concealed weapons, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In response to the new law in Kansas, the largest insurer of Kansas public school districts, Des Moines, Iowa-based EMC Insurance Cos., said it would not insure districts that allow employees to carry guns on school property.

In a service bulletin sent to insurance agents in May, Bernie Zalaznik, resident vice president in EMC's Wichita office, said the decision was based on increased liability risk the insurer saw being created if school employees carrying firearms.

The bulletin said the insurer “cares deeply” about the safety of schoolchildren and respects school districts' choice about how to protect them, but said “EMC has concluded that concealed handguns on school premises pose a heightened liability risk. Because of this increased risk, we have chosen not to insure schools that allow employees to carry concealed handguns.”

David Shriver, assistant executive director for insurance services and attorney for the Kansas Association of School Boards, said at least two other insurers have taken similar steps.

Continental Western Group, an Urbandale, Iowa, insurer owned by W.R. Berkley Corp., also won't write coverage for districts that allow employees to carry concealed weapons, he said, while Uniondale, N.Y.-based Wright Specialty Insurance secured approval from the Kansas Insurance Department for a policy exclusion for injuries or liabilities emerging from school employees' use of weapons. The insurers did not respond to requests for comment.

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Michael McHugh, area senior executive vice president at Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. in Itasca, Ill., said after learning of insurers' reaction to the Kansas law, he approached insurers that cover the broker's public school clients about the issue.

“Everybody is doing their due diligence and studying it and determining how it's going to affect them in particular states,” Mr. McHugh said. “They're not going to make a rash decision. It's a delicate situation.”

The National Conference of State Legislatures said before this year's legislative session it knew of no states that specifically authorized teachers and faculty to carry weapons in elementary and secondary schools, though some states do allow specific exemptions to school zone weapon bans, which could allow teachers or faculty to carry firearms. States that allowed exemptions include Alabama; Alaska, Arizona; California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

During this year's legislative sessions, the state legislatures national conference said more than 80 bills were introduced in at least 34 states specifically addressing arming teachers and/or administrators in schools with kindergarten through 12th grade.

These bills ranged from allowing school districts to set policies on employees carrying weapons to establishing “school sentinel” programs, to allowing teachers with concealed-carry permits to carry weapons on private school grounds. Of those, seven bills — including the one in Kansas — passed.

An Arkansas measure allowing churches operating private kindergarten through grade 12 schools to allow a person with a concealed handgun license to carry a firearm on school property became law without the governor's signature. Oklahoma enacted a law permitting licensed individuals to carry a weapon on private school property or on a school bus or vehicle used by a private school.

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South Dakota authorized school boards to create school sentinel programs. Tennessee enacted a law allowing specified people under certain conditions to carry firearms on school grounds. Texas enacted a law that deals with the creation of school marshals. Virginia enacted a law which permits state-licensed security officers to carry firearms onto private or religious school property if they're hired by the school.

The tiny Harrold Independent School District in Harrold, Texas, is widely cited in news reports as an example of a school district that does have armed teachers, and it's reported that other unidentified school districts in Texas do, too.

Despite the new Kansas law, the issue of school employees carrying weapons in Kansas schools is not a pressing one at the moment in the state, Mr. Shriver said.

“From information we have, no Kansas school district has adopted policy language that allows staff to carry weapons,” he said.

Following the Sandy Hook shootings, several Kansas school districts asked the Kansas school boards association to help craft language authorizing school administrators to carry weapons, he said, but the association's legal staff recommended that those districts not adopt such policies.

“The potential liability issues are too serious,” Mr. Shriver said.

The association recommends to districts that want an armed individual on premises hire a school resource officer or retired police officer with more extensive training than the eight hours required for a Kansas concealed carry permit.

Daniel Howell, managing director of the public entity practice at Alliant Insurance Services Inc. in San Francisco, said faculty and staff carrying handguns wasn't an issue during July 1 insurance policy renewals for elementary and secondary school district clients.

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“On our K-12 renewals this year, I'm not aware of anywhere the issue was brought up as a contingency of their renewal,” Mr. Howell said. However, an underwriter did ask whether excluding claims for losses emerging from an employee having a gun on campus would be a problem for the insured in the future, he said.

Jenny Emery, executive director of the Association of Governmental Risk Pools in Latham, N.Y., said the issue is being discussed by AGRiP members that cover public school risks, but the focus is more on risk management.

“They are in the process of what I would call evidence-based assessment of what's the best way to reduce risk,” she said.

Kenneth Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services in Cleveland, said he can understand insurers' concerns about risks involving armed teachers.

“It's a high-risk, high-liability proposition,” Mr. Trump said. That's also why he recommends against it. “I fully support having trained, certified, fully commissioned police officers in our schools.”

Police officers are trained to use firearms and also on other aspects of dealing with violent offenders and their own personal safety, Mr. Trump said.

“Schools are not law-enforcement agencies and school administrations don't have the skill set to run a quasi law enforcement agency,” Mr. Trump said.

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