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Missoula attorney, Rob Bell, left, and Gov. Bullock interact before the ceremonial bill signing on Thursday.

Gov. Steve Bullock shot down a bill that would have created a "school marshal" program for training armed guards for public schools. 

House Bill 567, sponsored by Rep. Derek Skees, a Whitefish Republican, lays out requirements for what would be included in a training program for the gun-toting school marshals, but leaves the actual program design to the Department of Justice and school trustees.

"Even the most experienced, highly trained law enforcement officers can make mistakes, especially when presented with deadly force," Bullock wrote in a letter explaining the veto. "To put armed, poorly trained school marshals in our schools makes little sense and will not enhance the safety and security of Montana schools."

The bill was opposed by several law enforcement groups and education advocates, but was supported by the Montana School Boards Association.

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The chaos of an active shooter situation served as the bedrock for arguments on both sides; supporters argued that an armed guard in the school would be best positioned to confront a shooter, while opponents said a marshal would be poorly-trained, increasing the likelihood of friendly fire and lessening effectiveness when confronting an active shooter. 

During debate on the bill, arguments for proponents and opponents sometimes relied on assumptions instead of facts; for example, Skees was adamant that marshals would be "police officers," despite substantial evidence that they would not meet requirements to become cops. Opponents seized upon a fiscal note that estimates training would consist of a four-week, 160-hour program, calling it insufficient. But there’s no set plan for training. 

Montana school trustees can already arm whomever they choose in schools under existing state law, with no requirements for training. A 2017 statewide records request found that only three schools in the state armed a staff member, and two more authorized a staffer to carry but that staffer chose not to; at least one additional school has put the framework in place to arm a staffer since then.

Montana has had two school shootings in modern history, killing a total of two people.

At a January school safety summit in Helena, several school administrators cited suicide as a greater threat to Montana students. 

More than 100 Montana students between ages 11 and 17 have died by suicide since 2005, including at least two in Billings schools this school year. The state consistently has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation. 

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Education Reporter

Education reporter for the Billings Gazette.