Beefing up school security: Gun-toting teachers not the answer

March 8, 2013 

In the aftermath of the December massacre of children and teachers at Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary School, our national debate has focused on stricter gun regulations and stronger school safety.

To that latter goal, Florida state Rep. Greg Steube filed legislation that would require school districts to station a resource officer on each campus or allow principals to designate school personnel with a concealed weapons permit to perform security duties while also carrying out regular tasks.

We have a number of concerns, specifically:

Under the bill, teachers, principals, administrators and other school staff could be selected as armed guards should they qualify with the proper weapons and crisis training and concealed carry permit. How could that possibly work to ensure security?

Would a classroom teacher be in a position to brandish a weapon when an armed intruder enters a school building? Or is it more likely that teacher would be too far away behind closed doors? Or would principals enlist a number of personnel to carry weapons to spread security around a campus, turning a school into an armed camp?

Would these concealed-carry permit-holders also maintain proficiency on the gun range? Wouldn't that be a requirement to prevent accidental shootings in the event of an armed encounter?

Wouldn't weapons training and ongoing proficiency practice place a burden on the school personnel selected for this difficult and dangerous task?

Principals, teachers and janitors are not trained to handle dangerous and life-threatening confrontations like law enforcement personnel. While Steube's bill requires such training, would school personnel want to take on such responsibilities? That seems highly unlikely.

And would a security guard have similar capabilities as a sheriff's deputy or police officer?

While Rep. Steube's intentions are good, this is a bad bill.

His other option holds merit, however. School resource officers -- highly trained professional law enforcement personnel ever vigilant for menacing intruders-- should walk the hallways and engage students and staff to build relationships and establish trust.

Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube, the representative's father, and Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski both agree that professionals should be in charge of school security.

The roadblock, though, is money. The Manatee County school district suffered massive budget cuts over the past few years and eliminated school resource officers from most elementary schools.

In a Herald report last week about the legislation, Sheriff Steube indicated the district would need an additional 30 resource officers to serve all the elementary schools -- at an estimated cost of $3 million. That kind of money will be well nigh impossible to find for a district now dealing with a disastrous budget defict.

Can the state afford to pay the entire cost? With 67 school districts and using Manatee's added expense as an average, the statewide cost could be in the $201 million range.

There are plenty of other pressing education issues facing the Legislature, including a desire to greatly expand technology in every classroom, and school security costs should spark debate. Should lawmakers decide to mandate resource officers, they should not abdicate their responsibilities and force another unfunded mandate onto school districts.

Despite the comfort resource officers provide to parents, they cannot ensure safety. At Colorado's Columbine High School in 1999, the officer failed to stop the attack even after trading gunfire with one of the two assailants outside the building before most of the carnage took place inside.

In unveiling his bill, Rep. Steube, whose District 73 encompasses the sprawling eastern portions of Manatee and Sarasota counties, stated:

"The safety of our school children and the dedicated teachers and personnel who educate them is a paramount concern to all communities. ... and we must come to a consensus on how to prevent violent crimes from occurring on school grounds."

Unquestionably, society must do more to protect schools vulnerable to assault. But arming and training school personnel is not the answer. Professional law enforcement officers, as costly as that will be, will provide greater security.

Perhaps the best question is this: Are there other ways to thwart attacks, such as modifying buildings beyond locked doors?

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