Home Career Who Gets to Have Guns in Schools – Can we Address this Issue Realistically?

Who Gets to Have Guns in Schools – Can we Address this Issue Realistically?

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By John Currie

Over the last several days we have heard from the President, subject-matter experts, law enforcement, a bunch of politicians and nearly everyone else in our address book about how to prevent school children from being shot in their classrooms.

The first issue we must get our arms around is the fact that this is now a reality. Many people are still trying to comprehend how and why a human being would enter an elementary school and repeatedly shoot several bullets into these innocent children. I am indeed sorry. In my 26 years in law enforcement, I saw a lot of very bad things happen, but I never thought there could or would be such evil perpetrated as that done at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

But yes, it did happen. Now, as police officers—as life-long public safety professionals—we are called upon to examine, determine and offer the best solutions for prevention. Simply stated, the country demands a realistic way to prevent a tragedy like this from reoccurring.

After weeks of discussion, the option offered and most widely accepted by the public is to hire and place armed School Resource Officers (SRO’s)/law enforcement officers (LEO’s) (here I use the term SRO and LEO interchangeable by my definition) in all of our schools. The majority of the country believes this is the most efficient way to provide immediate response to any suspicious activity. I agree – but it is NOT going to happen. Why you say? Because it is not realistic.

To put this all in perspective, we need to lay out a “basic foundation” from which we can offer viable conclusions. First, we must assess when and for how long will the SRO be on the campus/property. I think most would agree the answer is whenever there are children on the property/campus. Right? But does that include band practice after school, football practice, early-morning detention, after-school study hours, debate club, and student council meetings that all happen after school? Why not? Is that not realistic?

Can we offer a more versatile, practical and realistic approach to the hours that a SRO/LEO may be required on campus?

Let’s try rounding down our numbers. During a normal week, don’t most schools have children present in the close proximity of 40 hours a week? Given that students and teachers arrive before school and many activities take place after school, I am pretty sure it would be fair to say the SRO must be present on campus a minimum of one hour before school begins and two hours after class is dismissed.

Given today’s after-school activities, I would also call this a conservative approach. So, if my math is somewhere close to being accurate, we are looking at around 55 hours of campus coverage each week by an SRO/LEO.

Wait a minute, why does the SRO have to be in the school for two hours after school is dismissed if there are only eight students in the library working on their next debate competition? My answer – how could you not? Haven’t the perpetrators of these repeated violent acts looked first to a soft target? A target not well protected or any target that provides higher numbers of targets for him to attack? Yes, 55 hours would be a conservative post requirement. So, based on 55 hours, what does the Federal government say is the minimum number of persons it takes to man a post 55 hours a week? Rounding the numbers and remaining conservative – a 55-hour post requires a minimum of three personnel to man that post each week. This is based on a post manning factor of 5.489 personnel at a 24 hr. high risk post (IAW AFMS 43XX/1995).

The next issue we must address is the number of schools in each school district in our town, county and in our state. For example, let’s use the state of Oklahoma that is geographically located in the center of North America. Oklahoma has 603 school districts. Within those school districts are 1,831 schools. Unrealistically, we place three SRO’s in each school or a total of 5,493 SRO’s. This equates to one SRO on-duty at a time in one school regardless of the school’s size or student population for 55 hours a week. Where will these SRO’s come from and who in Oklahoma will pay a $164 million payroll at a basic $30,000 a year annual salary?

I have discussed the above mentioned “realistic” approach with a number of subject matter experts, with colleagues and with school administrators. The bottom line is that the above proposal is wholly “unrealistic.” Neither the states nor the Federal government has the finances to cover this kind of payroll individually or collectively with all 50 states. Nor do the states have existing LEO’s or SRO’s for all the schools that dot our cities and states. I have not done my own survey, but I believe it would be very accurate to suggest that in South Dakota’s Bennett, Dewey, Corson and McPherson counties it could be extremely difficult to locate three or more qualified and active sworn or retired law enforcement officers in those counties willing to accept a nine-month SRO position.

It is unrealistic to believe that we can place SRO’s in all of our schools across America. We already have them in some schools obviously. We like to think that is a very good situation. But what about those schools without SRO’s? Do they not become the soft targets discussed earlier and more likely to attack. I would presume so – and although that is just a presumption I would hate to be right!  

Is there another option? Yes, there is if we slow down and consider the facts as they are presented. Who are the first to arrive and the last to leave our children’s schools? Who are in the schools every day? Who do we trust our children with each day they leave home to go to school? The best option that can be implemented almost immediately and with planned follow-on training is to allow certain school administrators and teachers (who already possess their concealed carry permit) to begin concealed carry on the campus and in the school if they so desire. They must also pass an annual in-depth background check (under $100 for the number of checks required) and annually complete an in-depth 40-hour training program taught by law enforcement.

The school districts would determine if the teachers who carry a concealed weapon shall be made known to the student body, the public and/or the parents. It would be recommended that those who are carrying a concealed weapon be kept confidential other than the number of teachers who may carry on any given school day. It is important to publicly acknowledge, however, that the school does have armed personnel on the campus and in the building. I have heard the arguments that teachers are not cops. No, they are not – but they are a professional group of people who we already entrust our children to. We may choose to give them a stipend of possibly an additional $30 a month for completing the training and volunteering to accept this duty. This issue is already being discussed in a number of state legislatures and it will become a reality in some school districts around the country.

The question that remains – are the rest of us willing to realize the threat, support and promote the safety of our children in schools and address this issue realistically?

Comments

Comment(10)

  1. Another consideration is that when thousands of students and staff are attempting to escape or lockdown in a mass frenzy, responding officers will have enough trouble finding the violent intruder. Children running with cellphones and backpacks and now your going to add a teacher with a gun in hand, pumped up on adrenaline with tunnel vision and auditory block and the officers being human are in the same physiological state. Sounds like a recipe for friendly fire fatalities. I’m not saying armed personnel won’t help, but it is not the sole answer. Let’s train as if our life depended on it. If students and and staff train for violent intruders like they train on fire drills then nationally we can diminish the opportunity for the violent intruder and terrorist to target our children. Lets not forget that most violent intruders have planned there own camdean victory, and that a police officer or armed employee won’t always be a deterent.

  2. The above is an outstanding and cost-effective method of addressing an active-shooter situation in a school prior to the arrival of first responders. Matter of fact, it is almost exactly what I have been kicking around myself. But, there must be some method of clearly identifying the “armed teacher” if and when the teacher has to take action involving the brandishing of, or the use of a firearm, so as to minimize a “friendly-fire” incident when responding police officers arrive on the scene. Maybe something like a standardized cap that is recognizeable throughout a given jurisdiction, or even the state, that the armed teacher must put any time that he/she brandishes or uses a firearm, might help to prevent a “friendly-fire” incident. The cap and weapon would have to go hand in glove. If time permits, putting on an identifying vest would be helpful as well. Also, when the call goes out from the school, somebody from the school should be tasked with advising the police dispatcher that there is/are armed teacher/s at the school. Schools could advise area police departments up-front if they choose to use armed teachers. Nobody wants to compound an already tragic situation with a “friendly-fire” incident.

  3. “…but I never thought there could or would be such evil perpetrated as that done at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut”

    What a horrifyingly ignorant statement of the world. Israeli schools were attacked by muslims, sleeping families/children were attacked by muslims. In Russia, a school was taken over by Chechen muslim terrorists. They first killed the male teachers and older male students, they wired the school with explosives and ultimately killed a large number of students.

    A Pennsylvania Dutch school was attacked with children killed.

    Terrorists know that going after children in a “gun free zone” is a safe target and gets a lot of press. Of course bad guys will go after children, how better to hurt society.

    Israel learned that armed teachers and school staff worked and attacks on schools went down. Teachers in the US have stopped gunmen (african student in a VA law school was stopped by a teacher), other students have run out to their cars to get a gun to stop killings…when seconds count, the police are 10 minutes away. The police at Columbine hid safely outside the school while the shooting was going on…not their finest hour for sure.

  4. As a former SRO, and 20+ year veteran officer, I struggle with arming anyone in a school setting who has not had consistent tactical training, with mandatory updated training, to develop muscle memory in a tactical encounter. Besides muscle memory, mental tactical considerations have to be part of the equation of any armed response. Just because a person has a concealed permit to carry does not mean they are going to consider how their rounds may penetrate walls and hit unintended persons, or the area behind where they are shooting in case they miss their intended target, which is likely because their mindset 40+ hours/week is teaching, not tactics, the warrior mindset and shooting technique. How many officers, with the training and rigourous re-qualification requirements I have mentioned, could be more accurate with a firearm? Quite a few, in my experience. If the shooter is a student an armed teacher knows, what is the likelihood of them being disarmed in an attempt to talk a shooter down when the threat actually needs stopped, right now? Except in the case of ex-military or ex-law enforcement, with the hundreds of hours of training they are likely to have, it is difficult to make a case for arming people without adequate, extensive training that includes mandatory time at the range on an ongoing basis. Factor in the potential mentioned in an earlier post about mis-identification by responding law enforcement officers in an active shooter event, and the likely outcome of compounded tragedy goes way up. And when the shooting stops, unless everything works out perfectly, the lawsuits start. Since the school districts will have the deeper pockets than the $35,000/ year teacher, they can expect to spend money they don’t have defending their decision to allow what really amounts to a casual shooter to be armed in the classroom. Certainly law enforcement always has that liability exposure, but at least we can point to a rigorous selection, training and ongoing evaluation process to defend the officers’ actions. All in all, arming non-law enforcement or military trained persons in schools would have to be in the context of extensive and continual training and evaluation of decision-making under fire, their ability to effectively handle a firearm under stress, and a screening process similar to a LEO applicant to determine their suitability for carrying a gun and using it at the right time, in the right way. Anything less than that is not excercising due diligence to adequately protect the students or the staff.

  5. Why not do what the Israelis do? Certainly, after more than half a century of continued Arab terrorism, much of it directed at schoolkids, they have some pragmatic measures?

    In Israel, teachers who volunteer to be armed are able to get a permit, after some high-level training of around 70 hours of classroom and range time. (Most Israelis have familiarity with firearms already because of the universal military service.)

    If you see groups of schoolkids, such as on a field trip to Masada, it’s always the case that some of the teachers and helpers are armed. There have been many occasions in Israel where armed civilians quickly put an end to what would otherwise have been a Jihad massacre.

    The idea of paying to put armed police officers or equivalent in schools is nonsensical, when a cheaper, better, SAFER solution is available. Anyone want to get some insight from the Israelis? They speak good English, have good horse sense, and it’s easy to get there; ELAL flys non-stop from major USA airports.

  6. Before they arm teachers with firearms there are Security Officers at Some Schools Who work well with the S.R.O.and other LE’s . I am a retired LE. I been doing Security fo about 18years. During this time I also worked with police departments and other LE. I hold a Retired Law Enforcement Officer Certifcate of Firearms Proficiency. I also hold a perment in Arizona, Utah and California. I have to do my qualification shoot very yea rto carry as a Retired LE. I think I know the school Building better then the teachers and what to look for. What Im saying is, if there are Security Officers who are retired LE or just security officers. They should have first choice then teachers for training. The thought of some teachers carring a firearm is not good. Some dont know what to do when I fight breaks out.

    So please look at the seacrityfirst to have firearms training to carry a firearm.

    Thank you

  7. Don’t forget, Front Sight has offered training for Teachers, free of charge and that would be a great start. Teachers that carry should only be known to the police and other teachers, and should keep weapons secure and on them at all times.
    Police firearms instructors could provide additional training to the teachers.
    “gun free zones” have FAILED and need to be eliminated, and the gun control schemes need to be dismissed as a failure.

  8. There is no one size fits all solution. Schools are designated under HSPD-7 as part of Critical Infrastructure/Key Resources and within those documents published by DHS, they identify the vast differences and magnitude of trying to protect this type of CIKR. Each school district will have to evaluate their unique situation and determine what best fits them. Those districts whose nearest law enforcement is 20 minutes or more away may need to identify which staff could be properly trained to be armed. I know of one district in Texas in this situation. Those small town districts where everyone knows everyone, they may also do something similar, but for those large metropolitan districts, arming staff is a bad idea. Here is why. Officers today are trained to locate and neutralize the threat. Anyone in a school during a possible active shooter incident who is armed and not readily identifiable as a law enforcement officer will be engaged without warning. We are familiar with off duty law enforcement incidents where on duty personnel engaged the off duty who was perceived as a threat. Auditory exclusion, and other psychological issues will cause an administrator or teacher who was just involved in a shooting to fail to adhere to any commands given by police and may turn toward them weapon in hand. In the area where I am, typical response by Law Enforcement is 4-5 officers within a couple minutes and some 80 officers within 15-20 minutes, most armed with M4 style rifles. School Police are present at the high and middle schools, some armed with rifles with optics. The well intentioned CCW holder who is just trying to help, or the armed staff member in these areas are very likely going to be killed by responding officers. Districts need to do vulnerability studies, make the necessary improvements and determine what best fits their overall situation. Any way you look at it, cost is a major factor, especially for what is a low probability event. Israel as a model does not fit. They are much smaller and are basically in a war time footing and have been for many generations. Most of their adults have been trained in the military and remain part of the defense force of that nation. Their whole culture toward preparedness is completely different than ours, resembling us to an extent perhaps during the Cold War just following the Cuban Missile Crisis. Their children are trained from the time they are toddlers and older to take defensive measures during an attack. They teach them about CBRNE, First Aid and the like and every apartment building has a bomb shelter completely stocked per building codes. We may have to return to that one day, but for now we live in a different culture.
    For those that can afford it, a local controlled school police force can be a great benefit, not only in the area of protection, but in general climate of the school. You don’t have to have an officer at every school all day, but randomly appearing on and in the buildings, never setting a pattern. High and middle schools can have a full time presence. As a part of CIKR, the federal government should provide more funding to aid in the protection of this critical infrastructure/key resource so vital to the continuity of the United States. But with sequestration looming and large cuts to homeland security funding, I don’t see this happening. To me the greatest threat is still on the horizon with an Al Qaeda affiliated group making multiple simultaneous attacks on several schools achieving their required 4500 plus body count followed by threats to do more. This is one of the reasons LAPD developed MACTAC, that and the Mumbai attacks. It is a low probability event with high consequences for this country. We cannot afford to continue to think about this from within a box. We must have imagination as to what “could” happen and make some preparation for it. Trainers and tacticians in Law Enforcement have continually spoke about, prepared for, trained on multiple active shooter attacks by terrorists ever since the attack in Beslan in September of 2004. For 8 years we have studied the problem, worried about it, tried to prepare for it. This doesn’t even included the VBIED threat they could pose on schools. Our department adopted a Suicide Bomber protocol a couple of years ago in anticipation of what “could happen”. Georgia has already experienced one suicide bomber in a school. The Sheriff in that county was able to talk the student into surrendering. His device was fully functional and had a dead man switch. It was enough explosive to kill everyone of his hostages in the front office. We have seen the training videos from Afghanistan showing the jihadists practicing attacking a school and giving commands in English. We need to take notice of this and think outside our American culture box.

  9. I think arming school staff is a great idea. However, I would suggest more initial training (40 hours of firearm and 40 hours of defensive tactics/less lethal weapons training) and less yearly training (16 to 24 hours). The training could be conducted at a security officer training school, defensive firearms training school or at a police academy.

    I don’t think a stipend should be paid; if practise ammo, training and any licensing fees are employer paid. The armed school staff could use their training to seek summer jobs as security officers.

  10. After the 2007 shooting at Virgina Tech a small country school board in Harrold Texas voted to let their school employees carry guns. Harrold Texas has 100 students and is the size of Rode Island. They don’t have single law enforcement officer in the school district. It doesn’t take a law man as long to get there as it did when my Great Grand Mother first came there in 1882. Then they had to send one by train from Ft. Worth. Now one can get there in 15 or 20 minutes from Iowa Park or Vernon if their on the right side of town.

    Harrold may be small but it has play a part in Texas history for a long time. If you know were to look there a ruts left by chuck wagons following cattle up the Great Western Cattle trail. In 1882 the Ft. Worth and Denver made Harrold the Western Terminus. That forecast the end of the great cattle drives. But the killing winter of 1886 and 1887 did the job before the railroad had the chance.

    Harrold is the kind of school most folks think of. North of the Highway its all farm land right up to the Red River.South of the Highway it is mostly Waggoner Ranch with a few farms here and there. Sprinkled in are a few oil fields left over from Boom Town days.

    If the school doesn’t have a place for students to keep rifles and shotguns in they have some place in town to store them. Some of the kids that live in the country drive through some of the best hunting in Texas every day on their way to and form school. When I stopped there to visit a fried of mine that taught there in the early 80’s the gun racks in pick ups in the schools parking lot that belonged to the faculty and students both sported guns.

    Of the teachers I knew at Harrold I would as soon have them defend my life as most in law enforcement

    Gordon.

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