Maybe we’ve all watched too many fictionalized shootouts. How else to explain otherwise sensible people thinking that students will be safer if school personnel are equipped with firearms and a bit of training?
People are understandably searching for ways to “harden” schools. It’s unnerving that since 2000, school shootings in this country have killed about 250 students and teachers, including two dead and 12 wounded in a handgun attack at Marshall County High School in Kentucky in January and 17 dead and 14 injured in an AR-15 attack at a Florida high school on Valentine’s Day.
Schools should be safe. Period.
The problem with arming school employees — such as under a proposal in Pike County that got a preliminary OK from the school board Monday — is that it probably increases the danger posed by an active shooter.
That’s why the Kentucky Association of Police Chiefs opposed a bill in 2016 that would have authorized schools to appoint “marshals” who would keep a firearm under lock to use in case of an attack. The Kentucky chiefs warned that the presence of a “school marshal” could hinder local law enforcement during a crisis.
It would be just too easy for police to mistake a firearm-wielding teacher for the “bad guy,” thus endangering the teacher and those who could be in the way of police fire. “We see one person or six people with weapons drawn in plainclothes — that could go bad in a hurry,” said Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers. A man who disarmed a would-be shooter at a church in Texas recently was shot by police who saw him holding the bad guy’s gun.
The school marshal bill is back in the Kentucky legislature this year, though it has not moved since being assigned to committee Jan. 24. Let’s hope it remains dormant because Kentucky police chiefs also raised concerns about its training requirements.
While we might all like to imagine ourselves heroically intervening in a mass shooting, the people who have actually been in such situations caution that both intensive training and experience are required to respond effectively. Being a good shot at a firing range doesn’t prepare someone for such a crisis, and neither would the training proposed by the Pike County sheriff for school personnel who volunteer to carry concealed firearms on the job.
The promise that a good guy with a gun can protect us from a bad guy with a gun lacks statistical support — and even much anecdotal evidence. The FBI reports that between 2000 and 2013, civilians with a gun stopped only about 3 percent of active-shooter events. Unarmed civilians stopped about 13 percent. Most, 56 percent, ended when the shooters killed themselves, ceased firing or fled.
Kentucky can make schools safer by embracing Fayette County Public Schools Superintendent Manny Caulk’s recommendations, including more school-based mental health counselors and law-enforcement officers and better security plans.
If lawmakers are really serious about protecting children, they should address a problem that has killed far more Kentucky kids than school shooters. They should make it a crime for an adult to store a firearm where a child gains access to or uses it to hurt or kill someone. Bills that would do that are awaiting action in both chambers.
In the last six years, at least 15 Kentucky children died and 21 were wounded because an adult left a firearm unsecured. That’s more young lives than school shootings ever have claimed in Kentucky.