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Experts: Trained police needed for school security

The National Rifle Association wants armed volunteers in all US schools. But school safety experts and school board members say there's a huge difference between a trained law enforcement officer who becomes part of the school family — and a guard with a gun.

By Larry MargasakAssociated Press / December 29, 2012

Cori Sorensen, a fourth grade teacher from Highland Elementary School in Highland, Utah, receives firearms training with a .357 magnum from personal defense instructor Jim McCarthy during concealed weapons training for 200 Utah teachers in West Valley City, Utah.

Rick Bowmer/AP

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WASHINGTON

The student's attack began with a shotgun blast through the windows of a California high school. Rich Agundez, the El Cajon policeman assigned to the school, felt his mind shift into overdrive.

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People yelled at him amid the chaos but he didn't hear. He experienced "a tunnel vision of concentration."

While two teachers and three students were injured when the glass shattered in the 2001 attack on Granite Hills High School, Agundez confronted the assailant and wounded him before he could get inside the school and use his second weapon, a handgun.

The National Rifle Association's response to a Connecticut school massacre envisions, in part, having trained, armed volunteers in every school in America. But Agundez, school safety experts and school board members say there's a huge difference between a trained law enforcement officer who becomes part of the school family — and a guard with a gun.

The NRA's proposal has sparked a debate across the country as gun control rises once again as a national issue. President Barack Obama promised to present a plan in January to confront gun violence in the aftermath of the killing of 20 Sandy Hook Elementary School students and six teachers in Newtown, Conn.

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Agundez said what happened before the shooting in the San Diego County school should frame the debate over the NRA's proposal.

With a shooting at another county school just weeks before, Agundez had trained the staff in how to lock down the school, assigned evacuation points, instructed teachers to lock doors, close curtains and turn off the lights. He even told them computers should be used where possible to communicate, to lessen the chaos.

And his training? A former SWAT team member, Agundez' preparation placed him in simulated stressful situations and taught him to evade a shooter's bullets. And the kids in the school knew to follow his advice because they knew him. He spoke in their classrooms and counseled them when they came to him with problems.

In the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, school boards, administrators, teachers and parents are reviewing their security measures.

School security officers can range from the best-trained police officers to unarmed private guards. Some big-city districts with gang problems and crime formed their own police agencies years ago. Others, after the murder of 13 people at Columbine High School in 1999, started joint agreements with local police departments to have officers assigned to schools — even though that was no guarantee of preventing violence. A trained police officer at Columbine confronted one of two shooters but couldn't prevent the death of 13 people.

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