Aiming for a Solution

Districts, law enforcement agencies explore school saftey, educators carrying firearms

Last month marked the one-year anniversary of the shooting at Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland Fla. On February 14, 2018, Nikolas Cruz opened fire in the school and killed 17 people and injured 17 others.

In 1791, the United States Constitution was expanded to include the Second Amendment, which granted U.S. citizens the right to keep and bear arms. Since 1990, Federal law has prohibited firearms within 1,000 feet of a school zone. With the ever growing concern of whether teachers should carry firearms or not, more and more states are considering passing laws that allow teachers to carry firearms.  

At least 10 states have passed this law, 28 states have allowed security personnel to bear arms, and eight states have allowed teachers to carry guns on school property with the district’s permission, Kansas is one of those eight.

“There are a lot of factors as to why I don’t think teachers should carry guns in school. I think under limited circumstances, there are probably situations that would warrant it.” Sterling Police Chief Derrick Ploutz said. “There is a lot that goes into it. The security of the weapon and I think teachers aren’t necessarily trained in that aspect of life. You know, teachers are trained to educate kids, and I think, at some point, it gets to where we lose focus on education.”

2018 had the highest number of school shootings since 2006 where the previous high had been 59. Last year, 94 people were killed, a significantly higher number than what it was in 2006, according to CNN. A way schools could possibly avoid conflict is hiring a school resource officer.

Schools who want to avoid the conflict of training teachers usually hire a school resource officer.  A resource officer is simply a law enforcement officer who has been deployed by a police department to provide a safe environment to all personnel while at school. Most will be armed, thus not requiring teachers to carry their gun on them or in their classroom. 

“How much expense do we want to through for protecting,” Social Studies teacher Brian Richter said. “We can go through metal detectors and hire school resource officers and those kind of things.” 

School Resource Officers

School Resource Officers (SROs) are trained to move directly to the threat inside the school as quickly as possible, and try to eliminate further injury or any lives lost. Almost 20 percent of public and private schools in the U.S. have school resource officers and more schools are beginning to hire people in this position, according to the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO). 

“I am very, very pro school resource officer, but the biggest hurdle you run into with that is funding of the position,” Ploutz said. 

All SROs have to be willing to demonstrate three specific characteristics called “The Triad,” and these traits are ones that are commonly affiliated with being an SRO.  These include: serving as a counselor, acting as a teacher, and being a law enforcement officer. 

“I think that’s a trend we’re going to start seeing with the school security issue and in the overall picture I think that’s the best and probably the most cost-effective way to increase school safety,” Ploutz said.

Teacher Training 

In order for teachers to be able to carry guns in school, they have to go to training that would teach them when to pull the gun, when to fire and to hold their fire, and how to shoot more accurately. This training needs to be done under simulated and high-stress conditions to prepare them if an actual attack were to happen. Since firearm training skills degrade quickly, this training needs to be frequent and on an on-going basis. There are some teachers throughout the school that feel like they are comfortable with handling a firearm. 

“With my background that I have and my knowledge of firearms, I believe I’d make it safe and I would think I would feel comfortable,” Industrial Arts teacher Joshua Pounds said.

Having this training is a must, and a crucial aspect of teachers being allowed to carry a weapon in school. If a teacher was to shoot during a lockdown in an attempt to protect those in the school, as soon as the police arrive, they must put the weapon down and be compliant. 

“There’s probably a 99 percent chance that I’m not going to know who the shooter is, and anymore you have shooters who are students, you have school shooters that are parents, and you have shooters who are teachers,” Ploutz said. “If I come around the corner on an active shooter, that’s setting that staff member up for a very dangerous situation. If I come around a blind corner and all I hear are gunshots, it could be a good guy with a gun.”

Concerns of Teachers

One of the biggest concerns of teachers throughout the school is where the gun going to be kept and would students be able to access it easily. 

“My gut feeling says most students would probably worry about their teachers carrying weapons for safety issues. Could they be disarmed easily? Is the gun easily available? Could it be used for bad and not good and those kind of things? I think they would feel less secure,” Richter said. 

The SAFER Act

Kansas is a state that, in order for teachers to carry a firearm in school, the decision must go through the board and board members. On March 27, 2018, the House Insurance Committee had a hearing on House Bill 2789. The bill would help make Kansas staff as first emergency responders and is known as the SAFER Act.

This act would also create a statewide plan to allow teachers to carry guns in school. In the bill, districts are required to approve teachers who can participate. An approved teacher must have a license to carry a concealed handgun and have the desire to obtain a license with the SAFER Act to carry a concealed handgun in any building. While the act is still waiting to be passed, 

“I would not allow my faculty to carry firearms in school even if it was allowed, but what I would support is having a firearm in the office that only certain people who have had training could access,” principal Bill Anderson said.

In the midst of a school shooting, every second counts, from the 911 dispatch call to waiting for the police to arrive. When 911 is called people expect the police to show up almost instantly. Average police response time is about 10 minutes, and 10 minutes can feel like a lifetime, according to sheriffs.org. Various factors come into play when the police are called, depending on how many high priority calls are coming in at the same time. The number of officers that are on duty at that particular time, the number of officers needed for the call, and how urgent the call is. 

“I would say, I haven’t polled our average response times, but in Sterling our average response time would be very, very quick,” Ploutz said. “A distant example would be, the other day we had a fire alarm up here at the school, and they didn’t even have the chance to cancel anything and we were there. It’s a short time, and unfortunately with an active shooter, we’re talking every second counts,” Ploutz said.

Concealed Carry Act

While people in society might think carrying a weapon is not a good thing,  carrying a concealed handgun could help stop a public shooting spree. After the Columbine High School shooting massacre in 1999, Colorado passed a law called the Concealed Carry Act that allowed citizens the right to carry a concealed weapon. After this law was passed, the number of multiple-victim public shootings went down by 84 percent and deaths from these events went down 90 percent, with injuries dropping 82 percent.

“I think it could serve as a deterrent to somebody who knows there is a gun, but unfortunately, active shooters go in and they target people,” Ploutz said. ”I think security guards are a deterrent, but I still think the biggest deterrent to school shootings are buildings with officers inside.”

Averting Crises

As more and more teachers start working in different buildings inside the school system, a big issue is prohibiting teachers from walking in on a dangerous situation. Several teachers go back and forth between the grade school and the high school, and some even go to the college. Clark Comley, Cindy Anthony, and Janis Fair go between the grade school and high school. Larry Brownlee goes between all three: grade school, high school and Sterling College. 

“Making sure your schools have good lockdown plans and make sure the school buildings are secure when lockdowns happen are a great way to protect in the event of a crisis,” Ploutz said. “Using your communication systems is a way too. You have to have your policies in place and practice those things and understand what that entails. I’ve sat down with Mr. Goracke, and we’ve reviewed these plans that are in place. We have these discussions so that way we train not only our staff at the police department, but the staff at the school.”