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Guns in school?

Two perspectives on a highly charged issue
Laura Carno is the founder and executive director of FasterColorado.com, an organization that provides firearms training to school staff who are authorized as armed first responders. Deborah Gordon Klehr is the executive director of the Education Law Center in Pennsylvania.
Laura Carno is the founder and executive director of FasterColorado.com, an organization that provides firearms training to school staff who are authorized as armed first responders. Deborah Gordon Klehr is the executive director of the Education Law Center in Pennsylvania.

There are few topics as divisive among administrators, parents and communities as the prospect of firearms in the classroom. As more states consider allowing staff to be armed, we present two perspectives.

Laura Carno is the founder and executive director of FasterColorado.com, an organization that provides firearms training to school staff who are authorized as armed first responders. Deborah Gordon Klehr is the executive director of the Education Law Center in Pennsylvania.

CARNO: Staff must be the first responders

As acts of school violence continue to make the news, many districts are making the decision to have armed staff on their campus. Rural schools have been early adopters, as law enforcement response could be up to 45 minutes away. And many school staff members in rural areas are already concealed-carry holders, so carrying a firearm is typical.

Even those who are uncomfortable with armed staff tend to understand the question facing rural schools: What are the options when law enforcement isn’t an option?

Rural school staffers are increasingly becoming their own first responders. But in urban or suburban schools, there is also a case to be made for armed staff, even where there is a school resource officer.

On average, one person is shot every 17 seconds during mass shooting events. If your SRO is at the other end of the campus when the shooting starts, how many 17-second intervals will pass while that officer sprints toward the scene?

I don’t know a parent who wouldn’t want that shooter stopped before they take a single life.

There is no district that requires anyone to be armed. Schools that have decided to arm staff ask for volunteers, who then are required to undergo significant training. Districts find there are more than enough volunteers who have experience with firearms and happily raise their hands for this important responsibility.

Language differs by state, but most schools have a contract with the staff member that adds “security officer” to their job description for an additional $1 per school year. When the safety of students is on the line, school administrators are right to consider all options, including training and arming staff.

KLEHR: Drills and preparation make students safer

Everyone wants our schools to be safe places for students and educators. But legislation that permits school personnel to carry concealed firearms in public schools is a dangerous step in the wrong direction. It would make students less safe and would threaten to turn our schools into free-fire zones.

There isn't one credible national, state or local organization that supports the idea of giving school personnel permission to carry concealed guns on school property. Indeed, National School Safety and Security Services, a consulting firm, advises against arming teachers and school staff.

Bringing guns into our schools increases the risk of serious injury or even death if a gun is mishandled and is mistakenly discharged. Children are far more likely to be injured by self-inflicted gunshot wounds or in an accidental shooting resulting from another person’s handling of an improperly stored or unsecured firearm.

The specter of tragedy loomed over an incident in an elementary school last year, when a teacher mistakenly left an armed pistol in her school’s bathroom. At least four children used the bathroom during the three hours the gun was left unattended atop a toilet. Any one of them could have picked up the gun and caused it to discharge—with tragic results.

Improperly stored guns are also at risk of being stolen, and insurance rates have risen for schools that allow personnel to arm themselves.

In managing the threat of fires, schools don’t equip teachers with axes, helmets, boots and fire engines. Instead, they hold frequent fire drills to prepare students and staff to quickly and safely evacuate a building during a similar situation. Schools should hold shelter-in-place and other drills to confront the threat posed by a violent attack.


Laura Carno is the founder and executive director of FasterColorado.com, an organization that provides firearms training to school staff who are authorized as armed first responders. Deborah Gordon Klehr is the executive director of the Education Law Center in Pennsylvania.