In the latest development surrounding the debate over school safety, Douglas County School District in Colorado has elected to arm its security staff with semiautomatic rifles in a bid to deter and defend against a school attack or other violent incident.
The move steers the conversation a step beyond the usual arguments over whether school staff should be armed at all, instead adding high-powered weaponry to the arsenal of school security workers.
An emotive issue, proponents of arming those who work in schools have long insisted such is the only defense against those who would seek to do harm, while detractors label such moves as themselves introducing unnecessary dangers. Each time a school shooting takes place, the debate flares.
“We want to make sure they have the same tools as law enforcement,” Richard Payne, director of Douglas County School District security, told The Denver Post.
Mr. Payne, who said the decision had been his and the Douglas County school board had not been consulted, explained that the weapons would be kept locked in patrol cars and that officers will have to complete a 20-hour training course prior to being issued with a rifle.
The first of 10 Bushmaster “long guns” – which cost a total of $12,000 – will likely be deployed next month, with the remainder coming in August.
Some safety consultants have expressed concerns at the move, and The Denver Post reported that school security workers in nearby Denver, Aurora, and Jefferson counties carry only handguns, while those in Cherry Creek are unarmed.
While Douglas County may have taken a step beyond what most school districts are willing to consider, the question of whether teachers themselves should be armed is one often in the headlines, as schools across the United States make decisions one way or the other.
Lighthouse Christian School, for example, a private school in Twin Falls, Idaho, responded to potential shooting threats by arming administrators and teaching them to use guns in late 2015, as the Monitor reported.
"With people spread out throughout your facility, you have greater protection as well, responding to an incident," Kevin Newbry, the superintendent at Lighthouse Christian School, told KMVT. "With an intruder that has a gun or a rifle, statistics show the only thing that is going to stop an issue is another gun, unfortunately."
Different schools in Colorado and Arizona armed on-campus volunteers in 2013, and a small district in Arkansas armed 20 school staff in the same year. The move drew criticism for both ideological and financial reasons, and the state of Kansas scrapped a plan to arm its teachers after insurance companies balked.
Teachers in Utah are free to arm themselves, and during the state's October break from school, the Utah Shooting Sports Council offered free concealed weapons classes to 20 teachers. The class aimed to expand teachers' options beyond the district's policy of locking the classroom door, turning off the lights, and hiding, KSL News reported.
Opposition to such moves is widespread, however, with risks being highlighted, such as armed teachers mistakenly thinking a student is carrying a gun, police being unable to differentiate between a perpetrator and a teacher who has a weapon drawn, as well as the risks to students who find themselves in the midst of a gunfight.
"Some [insurance providers] are saying this is so high risk we’re not going to touch it," Kenneth Trump, the president of National School Safety and Security Services, which discourages districts from implementing concealed-carry policies, told The New York Times. "Others may say this is so high risk that you’re going to pay through the nose."