Senate Bill 2079
Enacts the School Safety Guardian Act to allow designated educators to carry concealed firearms in public schools.
Education; Judiciary A
Approved by Governor
On April 11, the Governor signed SB 2079 into law. It will take effect on July 1, 2023.
As amended in conference and approved by the House, Senate, and Governor, SB 2079 remains similar to the versions initially passed by the Senate and the House. Some notable changes include:
- The conference report removes a provision that would have allowed “third-party vendors” (i.e., individuals who are not school employees) to become School Safety Guardians. As amended, School Safety Guardians would have to be employees of the school district.
- In addition to active shooter situations, the conference report clarifies that School Safety Guardians would be authorized to respond to an “other situation that would cause death or serious bodily harm.” In adding the word “serious” the bill presumably raises the bar for situations in which School Safety Guardians would be authorized to respond (i.e., discharge their firearms)—though it is notable that Guardians would still be authorized to respond to situations which fall short of an active shooter situation.
- The conference report adds a provision that would authorize the Office of Homeland Security to contract with third-party vendors for “mobile phone applications and/or computer equipment or services to accomplish the purposes of this act.” It is unclear how a mobile phone app or related service might be utilized in this context.
The conference report for SB 2079 must now be approved by a majority vote in the House and the Senate, at which point it would be sent to the Governor to be signed into law.
Explanation of the Bill
Senate Bill 2079 would establish the “School Safety Guardian Program,” creating a framework for participating school districts to secretly designate certain educators as “School Safety Guardians.” These educators would receive training and be required to carry a concealed firearm at all times on school grounds. School Safety Guardians would be authorized to use deadly force and would be tasked with responding to any situation that would cause “serious bodily harm”—even in instances other than active shooter situations—and would be immune from civil liability for any “reasonable” actions taken within the scope of these duties. Their identities would be known only to school administrators and local law enforcement.
SB 2079 would not alter existing state law, under which school districts maintain the authority to either authorize or prohibit school employees from carrying concealed weapons (districts do not have the authority to prohibit members of the public from carrying concealed weapons on “parts of the campus generally open to the public”). Though it is unclear how many districts currently authorize educators to carry concealed firearms, SB 2079 would likely encourage additional districts to do so. More worrisome, SB 2079 may encourage armed educators to discharge these firearms, as the bill waives civil liabilities and allows School Safety Guardians charged with a crime to use their status as a School Safety Guardian in their defense.
Because the presence of School Safety Guardians would be unknown to students and the public, the School Safety Guardian Program would not provide a meaningful deterrent to deadly violence on school grounds. The possibility of unnecessary escalation of deadly force by School Safety Guardians—even in instances where an initial, external threat of deadly force is not present—combined with the possibility of accidents related to authorized firearms, may result in a net increase in the likelihood of deadly violence in public schools.
School Safety Guardian Program
Under SB 2079, the School Safety Guardian Program would be established in the Office of Homeland Security within the Department of Public Safety. The Department of Public Safety would be tasked with promulgating rules, regulations, and training requirements in consultation with the Mississippi Department of Education.
The “governing body of a school,” often an elected school board, would have the authority to opt into establishing a School Safety Guardian Program at that school. The governing body would designate employees to participate, who would then be required to undergo a training program developed by the Department of Public Safety. The training program, at a minimum, would be required to include an instructional course, criminal background check, psychological screening, and an annual recertification training.
These educators, dubbed “School Safety Guardians,” would be tasked with “responding to an active shooter situation or other situation that would cause death or serious bodily harm on the school campus…” (Emphasis added.) These educators would be authorized to carry concealed weapons and be required to have these weapons on their person at all times on school grounds. School districts would be required to pay School Safety Guardians a monthly stipend of $100-$500.
The identities of School Safety Guardians would be required to be documented and communicated to school administrators and local law enforcement, though notably, records relating to their identities would be exempt from the Public Records Act—meaning students and their families would be unable to determine which of their teachers have been authorized to carry concealed firearms.
Civil Immunity and Criminal Defense
School Safety Guardians would be immune from civil liability for any “reasonable” action taken within the scope of their official duties as a School Safety Guardian. Though these duties include a response to an active shooter situation, line 62 of SB 2079 would extend qualifying situations to any involving “ serious bodily harm, authorizing School Safety Guardians to respond to a wide range of instances which fall short of deadly violence. However, if a School Safety Guardian fails to “carry out their official duties,” this immunity would be waived. If a School Safety Guardian is charged with committing a crime, SB 2079 would authorize the defendant to use their status as a School Safety Guardian in their defense. SB 2079 would also revise the existing statute on justifiable homicide (97-3-15) to include killing a human being “in the performance of duty as a member of a School Safety Guardian Program.”
While the actions of a School Safety Guardian may be welcome in the instance of an active shooter situation, the language of SB 2079 would theoretically authorize a School Safety Guardian to use their weapon to respond to other instances, such as an unarmed altercation between students, in which there was not initially the threat of deadly force. This could serve to unnecessarily escalate a non-deadly altercation to a deadly one, in which an unarmed student could become the victim. And while, after the fact, the justice system may ultimately decide the use of deadly force by a School Safety Guardian was unwarranted, the School Safety Guardian may nonetheless feel empowered to use such deadly force in the moment due to the civil and criminal protections provided under SB 2079.
|1/9/23||On January 9, SB 2079 was referred to the Senate Education Committee and the Senate Judiciary A Committee.|
|1/31/23||On January 31, the Senate Education Committee and the Senate Judiciary A Committee passed a committee substitute for SB 2079.|
|2/8/23||On February 8, the Senate passed SB 2079.|
|2/23/23||On February 23, the House Judiciary B Committee passed SB 2079 with minor amendments.|
|3/7/23||On March 7, SB 2079 was amended and passed on the House floor. As amended, the bill would allow schools to contract with third-party vendors who hire personnel to participate in the School Safety Guardian Program. These personnel would not be eligible to receive the stipend that is provided to teachers who participate in the program. |
Additionally, the bill would prohibit school districts from using federal ESEA funds (such as Title I funds) to fund stipends for teachers who participate in the School Safety Guardian Program.
The bill will now return to the Senate for concurrence.
|3/15/23||On March 15, the Senate invited conference on SB 2079. Senate conferees include Dennis DeBar, Angela Burks Hill, and John Polk. House conferees include Nick Bain, Kevin Horan, and Jill Ford.|
|3/26/23||On March 26, a conference report was filed for SB 2079. As amended in conference, SB 2079 remains similar to the versions initially passed by the Senate and the House. One notable change includes removing a provision that would have allowed “third-party vendors” to serve as School Safety Guardians.|
|3/27/23||On March 27, the House and Senate adopted the conference report for SB 2079.|
|4/11/23||On April 11, the Governor signed SB 2079 into law. It will take effect on July 1, 2023.|