A week after a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at a Connecticut elementary school, the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association broke his silence on the tragedy to call for stronger security in schools. “I call on Congress today, to act immediately to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every single school in this nation,” Wayne LaPierre said in a press conference interrupted twice by protesters.
It’s not as farfetched as it sounds. According to a Gallup poll conducted in the aftermath of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, 53% of Americans believe a greater police presence can help prevent future calamities. And even before LaPierre spoke, a movement was already growing among state lawmakers to prevent another school slaughter like the one that devastated Newtown, Conn. Specifically, by putting guns in the hands of teachers and school personnel.
By Wednesday, lawmakers in eight states were prepared to introduce legislation to allow – even require – guns in schools, either in the hands of police officers assigned to schools or secretly carried by school personnel. Schools, they say, have become prime targets specifically because they are gun-free zones, but a killer might think twice about targeting a school whose teachers and administrators could shoot back. “Why do you call 911 when you’re in trouble? Because you want someone with a gun to come and help you,” says Virginia Assemblyman Bob Marshall. The details vary, but most of the plans put forth would require armed school employees to have a concealed weapon permit, undergo extensive weapon-use training, and limit ammunition to frangible bullets that break apart rather than ricochet.
It’s not a new idea. In Texas, individual school systems can set policies allowing armed employees and that’s what tiny Harrold, population 463, whose 103 students all attend a single school, did in 2007.It’s a thoroughly rural district, says Superintendent David Thweatt – also the school’s debate team coach – but one with U.S. Highway 287, a major artery from the Texas panhandle into Oklahoma, as a neighbor. “We’re isolated,” says Thweatt, “but we also have a four-lane highway coming out of Dallas-Ft. Worth in front of the school and a lot of traffic. And we have an extreme meth problem in our area.”
After an angry addict showed up at the school looking for the brother of a dealer he said ripped him off, security cameras and magnetic door locks that could be thrown with a moment’s notice of trouble were installed at the school. Then in October 2006 a shooter walked into a one-room school in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania and shot 10 little girls, killing five of them, and a year later, 32 people were shot and killed at Virginia Tech. Thweatt started questioning whether locked doors and teaching kids to hide was enough. “We’re 30 minutes from the nearest police station, so we have to be our own first responders. We wanted to be taken off the radar as a target.” Thweatt won’t say how many of the school’s 25 employees are armed; that information is “a key to the surprise factor.” But he is convinced his “Guardian Plan” works and that having guns in school is no different from Air Marshals on domestic flights.
Says Thweatt: “In 1990 we created gun-free zones for schools, and that was aimed mostly at gangs. But we forgot the bad guys couldn’t care less about the law, so we just left scores of kids across the country defenseless against these people. There’s a bias against firearms in general and the feeling that guns and school don’t mix, but it’s something we need to consider to protect our kids.”
The states considering such legislation include:
South Carolina – State Republican Representative Phillip Lowe argued that if teachers can be trusted with the nation’s children, they can be trusted to protect them too. On Tuesday, he filed a bill that would allow a public school employee with a concealed weapons permit to carry a gun on school grounds. Only school workers with no history of “violence or unmanaged anger” could carry guns and they would have to keep the gun on them at all times.
Virginia – Assemblyman Marshall said he will introduce legislation requiring all public schools “have a person with a concealed weapon.” Governor Bob McDonnell has indicated his support.
Oklahoma – “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,” State Rep. Mark McCullough told the Tulsa World in response to questions about the guns in schools legislation he will introduce. “I’ve been considering this proposal for a long time. In light of the savagery on display in Connecticut, I believe it’s an idea whose time has come.”
Nevada – Republican State Senator Bob Beers says he will submit a bill allowing school personnel to carry concealed firearms provided they complete training exceeding standards set for law enforcement. “The theory is that insane people don’t go on shooting sprees around people who have weapons,” Beers told Las Vegas Channel 8 News.
South Dakota – Saying the Newton killings were “like shooting fish in a barrel,” state Rep. Betty Olson plans to introduce legislation allowing, but not requiring, school personnel to be armed.
Minnesota –Republican Rep. Tony Cornish doesn’t have Democratic Governor Mark Dayton’s support, but the retired police chief still plans to introduce legislation arming teachers and school staff as the best way to prevent more school killings. “The best person to defend yourself is yourself,” he says
Oregon – State Rep. Dennis Richardson on Monday asked his constituents for feedback on a “campus responders” program allowing the arming of “two or three adult volunteers” in every Oregon public school. “Currently, when a killer begins his rampage the only armed person in the school for at least five minutes after the sound of the first gunshot is the mass murderer,” Richardson said. “If this procedure had been implemented, the number of students and educators killed in every school massacre from Columbine to Virginia Tech to Sandy Hook might have been greatly reduced.”
Tennessee – State Sen. Frank Niceley wants to require all schools to have at least one armed staff member. If not a police officer, then another school employee licensed to carry a concealed weapon and extensively trained in the use of a gun. “There was no resource officer at that school,” Nicely says of Sandy Hook Elementary. “If there had been someone who could shoot back, maybe he (shooter Adam Lanza) wouldn’t have gone there.”
Missouri – A guns in schools bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Mike Kelley already has the support of more than two dozen lawmakers.