What An Arkansas Republican Learned From Accidentally ‘Shooting’ A ‘Teacher’

Let’s be clear: Arkansas state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson (R) didn’t really shoot a teacher back in January, accidentally or otherwise. Not exactly.But a few news outlets on Wednesday picked up an anecdote from an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette story, and here’s basically what the story became: GOPer Calling For Armed Teachers Shoots Teacher.

The real story, as Hutchinson told TPM on Thursday, is more benign. It is also more interesting.

Hutchinson, a Republican in his second term representing the state’s 33rd Senate district, lives in Benton, Ark., a city about 25 miles southwest of Little Rock, Ark. A few weeks after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Connecticut, when talk of arming school personnel was at its height (fueled by the National Rifle Association, with a big assist from Hutchinson’s uncle, former Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R-AR)), Hutchinson was approached by Benton’s police chief, Kirk Lane.

“He had concerns about [arming school personnel] and wanted us to see why those concerns existed,” Hutchinson told TPM. “And the biggest concern was, whenever the police arrive, how do they distinguish between a good guy with a gun and a bad guy with a gun, if there’s no uniforms and if they’re all in regular clothing? So he arranged this simulation.”

Lane invited Hutchinson and another Arkansas lawmaker, state Rep. Kim Hammer (R), to participate in an active shooter simulation at a local school. Police handed Hutchinson a rubber-bullet loaded gun, gave him some basic training on breaching and entering rooms, and then had him run into the school, where officers in plain clothes took on the roles of either shooters or teachers.

“The first two simulations they were just all bad guys, and so we got used to running in, you’d go to the sound of the gunfire,” Hutchinson said. “And then they threw a twist in on the third one, where there was what appeared to be a bad guy in the hallway, shooting into the classroom. And so, just instinctively, I shot. And then I turned the corner and see that the bad guy that I had just shot was actually shooting with another bad guy, which kind of blew my mind for a second.”

Afterwards, the police informed Hutchinson that he had shot a “teacher.” The experience was “eye-opening,” Hutchinson now says. Which is why he told the story this week to a Democrat-Gazette reporter, who was working on a story about Arkansas superintendents who are hoping to convince a state board not to revoke their districts’ licenses to have staff members act as private security guards.

That said, Hutchinson doesn’t oppose all guns in schools.

“My preference is that we have school resource officers in every school,” he said. “But we can’t afford that, a lot of schools can’t afford that. And so my position is we leave it to the school districts to design their best security plans.”

Hutchinson told TPM that he believes “every school is different.” As an example, he pointed to the longer response times that police have in getting to schools in rural areas. But he now also advocates requiring “extensive” training for anyone who carries a gun in a school, so that it “not just be somebody with a concealed carry permit walking around carrying a gun.”

“For the active shooting, and deescalation of fights, and anti-bullying, and certainly marksmanship, they need as much training as any officer would have received before they should be allowed to carry a gun into a school,” he said.

And the simulation experience was so compelling to Hutchinson, he tried to organize another one for his fellow lawmakers to attend earlier this year.

“But logistically, during the session, we could never make it happen, because they’d have to get a bus and travel, and it’s during the session when you’ve got votes going crazy,” he said. “So we could never quite do it. But I think it would be helpful for every policy maker to experience something like that before they start setting policy. Certainly [with] something as precious as our kids’ safety.”