WASHINGTON — As Congress gears up for a fight over possible new gun restrictions, lawmakers in some states have pushed in the opposite direction — to ease gun rules — since the Dec. 14 massacre of 20 first-graders and six women at a school in Newtown, Conn.
Legislation has been proposed, however, to allow teachers or other school workers to carry firearms in schools in at least seven states: Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
"I want a last line of defense," said Jason Villalba, a Republican and newly elected Texas state representative who plans to introduce the Protection of Texas Children Act to allow schools to designate staff members as armed "marshals" provided they undergo special training.
Some lawmakers have gone further, proposing that any teacher with a permit to carry a concealed weapon be allowed to bring it into school.
"It is incredibly irresponsible to leave our schools undefended — to allow mad men to kill dozens of innocents when we have a very simple solution available to us to prevent it," said Oklahoma state Rep. Mark McCullough, a Republican who plans to sponsor legislation to allow teachers and principals to carry firearms in schools after they undergo training.
Several states have pushed for stiffer regulations. In California, lawmakers have proposed strengthening already tough state gun laws, including requiring a permit and background checks for anyone who wants to buy bullets.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, vetoed a bill last week that would have allowed gun owners with concealed weapon permits to carry their firearms into schools and other public places. Snyder objected that it didn't let institutions opt out and prohibit weapons on their grounds.
The different legislative responses underscore the difficulty of reaching a political consensus on guns, an issue that often divides lawmakers by geography as much as party affiliation.
Support for gun control measures is much higher in Democratic strongholds in the Northeast and West than in Republican bastions in the Midwest and South, according to polls. But sometimes the divisions are much closer.
Gov. Martin O'Malley of Maryland, a Democrat, complains about "too many guns" and plans to seek gun control legislation.
In neighboring Virginia, Gov. Robert McDonnell, a Republican, said the idea of arming school personnel was worth a discussion.
"If people were armed, not just a police officer but other school officials who were trained and chose to have a weapon, certainly there would have been an opportunity to stop aggressors coming into the school," McDonnell told WTOP radio in Washington.
The idea of arming teachers or administrators has drawn plenty of criticism.
"I've not heard from a single teacher or administrator who said that they want to go to school armed with a gun," said Meg Gruber, president of the Virginia Education Assn.
"Why in the world would you even think of doing this?" added Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Assn. He said Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown "did everything right. … But you can't stop somebody with an automatic assault rifle from shooting out a window and coming through."
Betty Olson, a Republican state representative in South Dakota who proposes allowing teachers with concealed weapon permits to bring their firearms into schools, said she had gotten a favorable response.
"We've got a few anti-gun liberals who think that that's crazy, allowing anybody with a gun into the school," she said. "Never mind those lunatics."
South Carolina state Rep. Phillip D. Lowe, a Republican who proposes to allow concealed weapon permit holders who undergo rigorous training to bring guns into school, agreed.
"There's always some people who are opposed to anything with the letters G-U-N," he said.