02-19-2017  3:21 pm      •     

While most of the nation's students are enjoying summer break, teachers in a handful of states are studying- not their fall curriculum, but how to take out an assailant.

In Ohio, the gun rights PAC, Buckeye Firearms Association, has launched a program to educate teachers on how to take down a gunman.

"We were mocked when we first said we wanted to teach this class," Jim Irvine, president of Buckeye, said. "People doubted if we could fill the class."

Yet more than 1,400 school staff members applied for the 24 spots first offered in late December, he said.

Interest in arming teachers has grown among some school staff, gun rights groups and lawmakers in the aftermath of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in which 20 students -- ages 6 and 7 -- and six adults were killed in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14.

Gun rights groups have sponsored classes for teachers in a number of states-- from Texas to Ohio.

In the six month since the mass shooting at Newtown's Sandy Hook Elementary, legislators in at least 30 states have proposed laws allowing teachers and other school staff to carry firearms on primary and secondary school campuses, according to Lauren Heintz, a research analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures. In most states the bills have failed, but laws have been enacted in South Dakota, Alabama, Arizona, and Kansas. Texas, which already allows staff to carry firearms with school approval, passed two new laws creating a "school marshal" program and addressing training teachers.

Some bills proposed in the past six months require only that the school employee have a concealed-firearm permit, but many of the bills include training provisions. For example, South Dakota's new law requires law enforcement-approved training for every appointed school sentinel.

The week after Sandy Hook, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre told the media that all schools in the United States should have armed security, and an NRA-backed task force proposed training and arming adults at schools.

"Will you at least admit it's possible that 26 innocent lives might have been spared?" LaPierre asked. "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," he said.

Before Sandy Hook, no state's law explicitly permitted firearms on school campuses, though some states had exemptions, according to the NCSL.

For 12 years Utah's concealed weapon law has permitted a person to have, on his or her person or in a secure lockbox, a weapon inside a school. As concealed firearm permit holders, they are not required to tell parents or school officials.

But in Texas and Ohio, for instance, a person must get permission from the school district to bring a concealed weapon on school grounds

The Harrold Independent School District board in rural Texas, approved a plan to arm certain staff members in 2007. Under the so-called Guardian Plan, identities of armed staff members aren't divulged. This way, a shooter can't target them, the superintendent wrote in a column for CNN's Schools of Thought blog after Newtown.

"At the end of the school day, we at Harrold want to know we've done everything possible to protect our children from people who are intent on harming them," he wrote.

The Union Grove independent and Van school districts, both in East Texas, became the second and third districts in the state to authorize teachers with concealed handgun licenses to carry firearms on campus in January.

Ohio allows school boards to vote on whether teachers and administrators can carry a concealed weapon into schools, a stipulation that was largely overlooked until Sandy Hook. The exception has existed since at least 2008 when the law was last amended.

Dick Caster, head of the Ohio School Board Association, said school safety plans are private documents so there isn't a list of every school district with armed employees. Though not required to disclose, a few school districts have made headlines for voting to allow teachers to carry guns. Sidney City Schools announced it would be arming staff in March, and the school board in Montpelier approved arming its custodial staff in January.

But Bill Bond, a former principal who confronted a shooter, isn't so sure arming teachers is the answer. A student shot eight of his peers at Heath High School in Kentucky in 1997 where Bond was principal at the time. Three of those students were killed in the shooting. Looking back, Bond said he wouldn't have wanted a gun. "It could have made the situation worse," he said. "The potential for wrongful accidental killing is greater than the potential for saving," he said about arming school personnel.

He supports having trained school resource officers on campus, but educators have enough on their plates without the responsibility of a deadly weapon, he said.

"Anytime you have divided or added responsibilities, it distracts from primary responsibilities," he said. "From an educational standpoint, I'm against it."

Bond worked 29 years in schools and has been the school safety expert with the National Association of Secondary School Principals for 12 years. He's heard talk of arming school personnel before, but it wasn't seriously considered until Sandy Hook, he said.

"I do realize that the only thing that would have been able to stop him was gunfire," he said, "but that particular situation is an anomaly."

He also points out that an armed educator would have had only one gun with a few rounds, where as the shooter had multiple firearms and 30-round magazines.

"Teachers will hesitate and that will cause teachers to be killed, and if they don't hesitate they'll make the wrong decision," Bond said. "It's wracked with danger."

Ken Trump, a school safety consultant who runs his own firm, agrees that it's a high-risk, high-liability proposal and thinks only a law enforcement officer should carry weapons on campus.

"There's a huge difference between saying, 'I can protect my family and my home,' versus 'I'm prepared to protect the masses,' " he said.

You also have the matter of whether teachers want to carry guns. Nearly three-fourths of teachers said they would not bring a firearm to school even if allowed, a February School Improvement Network survey showed. However, the survey showed most educators believedarmed guards would improve safety.

John Benner, president and chief instructor at the Ohio-based Tactical Defense Institute, has trained school resource officers for years. He taught his first class to teachers this spring.

The three-day class sponsored by Buckeye Firearms Association examined mass shootings and taught school personnel how to predict a killer's behavior and shoot on the run amid obstacles like narrow hallways and stairwells. Police officers and SWAT commanders help instruct the course, and participants must have a concealed weapons permit before registering.

Buckeye paid about $1,000 per teacher, which includes tuition, food, board and ammunition. The group will cover tuition and board for the six courses offered this summer.

Benner would like to see all school employees - teachers, resource officers, administrators- learn to use firearms.

"I hate the idea of arming teachers, but we have to," Benner said. Signs and locks won't deter an attacker and police can't respond quickly enough, he said. "It's the only thing that's going to work."

Asked if training law enforcement officers to patrol schools was a better idea than arming teachers, Caster, who was the executive director for the National Association of School Resource Officers before joining the Ohio School Board association, said it's not possible.

School resource officers are typically funded by either the school or the local law enforcement agency.

"This is what it boils down to: can you afford to have an officer in every school?" Caster said. "It's not in the budget."

In any event, he said, emotions should not drive the discussion.

"This isn't about guns, it's about a possible tactic," Caster said. "My plea is that we have a rational, logical discussion (about arming teachers) as an additional possible tool."


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