A school safety bill Gov. Brian Kemp named as a top priority passed the House Monday despite protest from some Democrats who said it ignores the dangers of guns.

This story also appeared in Georgia Recorder

House Bill 147, sponsored by Dawsonville Republican Rep. Will Wade, passed 148-20. It sets up a school safety and anti-gang training program for educators, encourages colleges and universities that train teachers to include safety and gang lessons in their lesson plans, requires schools to submit their safety plans to the Georgia Emergency Management Agency and requires all schools to hold an annual intruder alert drill.

That mandatory drill raised concerns from some Democrats, who argued the bill would add stress to teachers and students without much proven benefit.

“There is a nationwide retrospective study that surveyed K-12 students across 33 states that found that anxiety, stress and depression among students increased 39% to 42% after active shooter drills, in conjunction with the fact that there’s actually scant evidence that such drills save lives,” said Rep. Michelle Au, a Johns Creek Democrat.

Au was referencing a joint study between Everytown for Gun Safety and Georgia Tech that analyzed changes in social media 90 days after an active shooting drill.

Wade said the bill includes flexibility for those who do not want to participate.

“Our bill also acknowledges that there are certain situations in which some students or some faculty might need to opt out for special needs situations or life experiences,” he said. “I can tell you in my district, we had a former faculty member that had lived and survived a tornado, and we allow for that person not to participate within a tornado drill in our local community.”

Au, a physician, has sponsored bills which would require background checks and three-day waiting periods for gun sales and make it a crime to make a gun accessible to a minor.

“This is a yes or no question,” she asked Wade. “Do you feel that gun safety legislation serves any role in creating a culture of violence prevention and protecting our children?”

“I believe that we need to seek things that prevent violence, period, in our schools, especially to protect our students and our faculties,” Wade said.

Democratic Rep. Jasmine Clark of Lilburn questioned the effectiveness of school shooting drills and castigated Republicans for not hearing bills like Au’s.

“We have several bills that take common sense approaches to keeping guns out of our schools,” she said. “Pediatric safe storage, keep the guns out of the hands of kids. No hearing. Universal background checks, keep the guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. No hearing. Requiring reevaluation before allowing individuals who’ve been involuntarily committed to mental institutions. No hearing.”

“This equates to us having fire drills, which was just mentioned, while taking absolutely no precaution to stop the fire from happening or spreading in the first place. We regulate fire extinguishers in this state more than we regulate firearms in this state,” she added.

Lyons Republican Rep. Leesa Hagan, a former teacher, dismissed such concerns.

“We hear so much about doing something to keep guns and violence out of our school, but the fact is our schools are already gun free zones,” she said. “That doesn’t seem to matter to an active shooter that wants to come in and harm our children and our teachers.”

“There are already laws prohibiting violence on campus. It still happens,” she said. “So those who don’t respect laws or human life don’t care about what laws we pass. They care about committing these heinous acts, and whether it’s out of pure evil or some type of mental illness, it does not matter when our children are in harm’s way. So I feel this bill is important because it gives our schools, it gives our children, a tool so that if an unfortunate, horrible act were to happen at their school, they know what to do.”

Many Democrats agreed.

Powder Springs Rep. David Wilkerson who cosponsored the bill, said studies that discuss the traumatic effects of drills are referring to unannounced drills versus announced drills, and the bill leaves it to local districts to decide which type they want to use.

Atlanta Democratic Rep. Stacey Evans said she would hold her nose to vote for the bill. She also called on Republicans to hear gun safety measures, but said the bill as written is better than nothing.

“I agree with much of what my Democratic colleagues said up here today, so it’s complicated,” she said. “Our teachers and our kids have no choice, as I see it, but to plan to try to survive the very real threat that they face every day that there could be a school shooting inside their building, that’s their reality. They have no ability to change that reality. They only have the ability to decide how to plan for it and how to try to survive. And I want them to do that. So that’s why I’m supporting this bill.”

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Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

Before joining the Georgia Recorder, Ross Williams covered local and state government for the Marietta Daily Journal.Williams' reporting took him from City Hall to homeless camps, from the offices of business...