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Do you want armed guards in schools?

1/2/2013

It’s the National Rifle Association’s Big Solution. And Iowa Department of Education Director Jason Glass says it’s an idea worth considering.

We are talking about armed guards in our schools. Glass is right. Armed guards are worth considering.

We should make one major stipulation, though. Any armed guards in Iowa’s schools must be members of professional law enforcement organizations. Paul Blart, Mall Cop, need not apply.

The cavalier notion of arming administrators, who are distracted with a million and one other responsibilities from curriculum development to negotiating days off with the teachers’ unions, is one of the more dangerous ideas I’ve heard floated in some time.

Same goes for arming teachers.

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Someone who resorts to tears because of angry words directed to her during a parent-teacher conference is not going to have the right stuff to stand down a killer with an AR-15.

If we introduce guns into our schools as the NRA suggests (“a bad guy with a gun can only be stopped by a good guy with a gun”), we must limit the potential for accidents.

Teachers and administrators, well-intended as they may be, are not law-enforcement professionals, and a few days of in-school training or some after-school gun-range work isn’t going to make our faculties one part “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” one part SEAL Team 6.                

Too many of our teachers already are doing the jobs of parents today. Now we want them to be cops, too? Crime-scene psychologists with guns, making snap decisions about when to pull a trigger? Who to shoot? Why?                

With armed schools, there is enormous potential for accidental shootings, mistaken identification of a prank or the pulling of a microscope or other object with a gun-like look from a back-pack or a locker-room fight as preparatory elements of a school massacre. If we arm all our teachers, or even just a few administrators in our state’s K-12 schools, and do the body counts in a decade, the odds are we’ll have more dead from bad shoots than good shoots.                

Washington, D.C., and Des Moines are talking about potential ideas to prevent school violence. They’ll get around to armed guards and maybe even metal detectors along with mental health. There will be much grand-standing and press-release issuing on God and video games — too little of one, too much of the other.                

We can wait for those debates to play out and see what funding streams develop or we could act now on the local level.                

We could add the personnel needed to protect each one of Iowa’s K-12 school buildings with an armed police officer during regular class time and after-school activities. Glass wouldn’t sketch out more than a rough estimate, but he said that if each guard cost $60,000 (salary and benefits) it would take $86 million to station one at all of Iowa’s 1,434 buildings, The Des Moines Register reported.                

Another option would be to hire fewer officers and have them randomly patrol the schools, interacting as resource officers in a multi-faceted fashion. Or the schools and police simply could use existing resources.                

Maybe solutions don’t involve guns in schools but more mental-health outreach, better techniques and protocols for spotting warning signs and intervening with troubled kids. This is a conversation we need to have locally.               

Do you want armed guards in the schools? Are you like State Sen.-elect Mark Segebart, R-Vail, who is comfortable with teachers, principals and superintendents carrying guns? If so, how much firepower should they possess? What are the rules of engagement? Can teachers shoot first? If it’s a bad shoot, will they be legally immune, morally accepted by the rest of us?                

It’s ironic. Social conservatives like Segebart are so distrustful of Hollywood, yet so shaped by it. They see the world in black hats and white hats, a place where the bad guys are easily identified, and your average, ordinary, friendly high school chemistry teacher can calmly set down his Bunsen Burner and, Roy Rogers-style, draw a sidearm, and with a single bullet, shoot a criminal’s gun from his hand to the ground.                

The reality is, as the police will readily tell you, that even the pros make mistakes.                

DougBurnsLife is not fair, so you sort of have to play the odds. My thinking is the polar opposite of Segebart’s. I’d submit that more guns in more hands increases the chances of mistakes in our schools, and the media will be reporting more about accidental shooting deaths than breathless accounts of mad gunmen being taken out in elementary gymnasiums by heroic teachers before the armed shooters can get to the kids.              

But I don’t have kids. If parents want armed guards in our schools, and taxpayers are willing to foot the bill, let’s give them the best we have. CV

Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman who writes for The Carroll Daily Times Herald and offers columns for Cityview.

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