The thought of allowing firearms in schools brings a flurry of what-ifs.
NATION-The thought of allowing firearms in schools brings a flurry of what-ifs.
What if a single teacher had been armed when Adam Lanza gunned down 20 children and six adults in the halls of Sandy Hook Elementary School last year?
And what if teachers or anyone else were allowed to legally carry guns in school buildings across the nation? Would it prevent the next schoolhouse massacre, or would it just increase the odds that any firearm around children is a tragedy waiting to happen?
The National Rifle Association responded to the mass shooting in Connecticut by doubling down on its own position: more guns, not fewer, provide true security.
“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” said NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre.
As these questions fuel the heated debate surrounding guns in schools, at least 18 states – like New York – already have loopholes in their laws that allow school districts to authorize an adult to carry loaded weapons on school grounds.
Some states like Utah and now South Dakota allow teachers to carry firearms, but many other states like Pennsylvania and West Virginia still prohibit any non-police officer to bring weapons inside a public school building.
While New York was the first state to react to the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., by passing the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act (NY SAFE ACT), the strictest gun control legislation in the country, other states are taking their time to consider what the proper response might be to such large-scale tragedies.
“I think there’s almost a reflex of prejudice against arming teachers rather than a well-thought-out discussion regarding the ramifications and how do we do this,” said Professor Robert Cottrol, who teaches law at George Washington University. “They are not going to be able to prevent incidents like Sandy Hook simply by wishing them away.”
Clay LaCoe, acting superintendent for the Western Wayne School District said that nobody is allowed to bring firearms into the buildings.
“Only the school resource officers, who are state police, are allowed to be armed,” he said.
The district is working on implementing more safety measures to better protect the students.
“These measures will help slow entry into the building and create barriers from anyone who tries to do anything bad,” LaCoe stated.
He added that if a student brings any type of weapon into the buildings, there is an automatic 180 day expulsion.
Mike Silsby, superintendent for the Wallenpapupack Area School District, agrees with LaCoe.
“No one is allowed to bring any weapons on campus, even if it's concealed,” he said. “Only probation officers, state police and anyone trained is allowed to be armed.”
Silsby said there are no metal detectors in their buildings, but they do have buzz in systems. He added that visitors have to get passes if they are allowed in, and the doors are locked other than the main entrance. There is also an ID system for staff.
“We are starting to look at having school resource officers starting with the next school year,” Silsby said. “By May I will make a recommendation to the board about doing so.”
He said they may simply start with a director of security, who would provide the district with suggestions for the “best way” to proceed.
“The state police are great to work with,” he said. “We call if we need them when an issue becomes a legal situation. They also stop in to have a presence in the schools. They're a great resource to have.”
Silsby thinks they would start out with three resource officers, one for the south elementary school in Newfoundland and the other two for the other buildings, which are in “close proximity” to each other. The resource officers could “slow the incident” until other help arrived.
“We may build the amount of resource officers over time when budgets allow,” he said.
The district has always had a detailed safety plan but they are also implementing other measures, some of which are newer because of the tragedy in Newtown, CT.
“The four major events that have made school districts rethink their safety measures are Columbine, Virginia Tech, 9/11 and Newtown,” Silsby said. “Each time we've had to take a hard look at what we can do. These tragic events can happen anywhere.”
He said the district also does a lot of safety drills. Most recently, on March 20, the district did a code red drill, which is the highest level. Code red is for an intruder in the building. Teachers lock the doors and get the students out of sight. Silsby said families were “pre-told” that the drill would occur.
He added there will be an active shooter drill in October that will be a simulation. State police and other emergency personnel will take part.
“We will continue to drill with students and staff,” Silsby said. “Each building also has a safety committee and there is a district safety committee as well. They look at any issues we may have and evaluate what we can do to make things better for the health, safety and welfare of everyone in the buildings.”
Silsby said that an architect will take a look at the entrances to see if anything else can be done. The architect will look at costs and more. One of the ideas is a glazing, which is put on existing glass and makes it bulletproof.
“We have to find what will do the most good for the best dollar and see what will be most beneficial,” he said. “We have a lot in place to protect our students, faculty and staff and we will strive to make the schools safer.”
With some schools in the region installing metal detectors to detect weapons, superintendent of Wayne Highlands School District Greg Frigoletto uses a different approach.
"We do not have metal detectors," he said. All schools in the district do utilize a buzz-in entry system. This means any person wishing to enter the school must be buzzed in.
The schools strive to create an environment where "students feel safe" talking to a teacher to report something strange or dangerous. It also works to prevent a student from bringing a dangerous item to campus in the first place.
Another aspect of the weapons policy is the "consistent safety and security drills" both teachers and students participate in. "We take them very seriously," he said.
The current weapons policy in Wayne Highlands district is one of zero tolerance with a "very strict penalty" for a violation. The weapons policy extends beyond having a firearm on school property to include items like knives or replicas of a weapon to "any tool intended to be used as a weapon." Even if a weapon is found in a locker or backpack, it is a punishable offense.
Frigoletto says if a weapon as defined by the policy is found, the person violating the policy will face "an expulsion of a period of not less than one school year."