Gun control advocates fear that arming security staff could be the start of a dangerous trend of bringing high-powered firearms into US classrooms
A Colorado school district is arming its security staff with semi-automatic rifles in an unprecedented move that gun control advocates fear could be the start of a dangerous trend of bringing high-powered firearms into US classrooms.
The Douglas County school district, which serves elementary, middle and high school students in a suburb south of Denver, disclosed this week that it spent more than $12,000 on 10 Bushmaster long guns for its security team the kind of assault weapons that gunmen have used in deadly mass shootings in Colorado and across the country in recent years.
School safety experts say this is the first case of a US public school district arming its in-house security officers as opposed to sworn law enforcement officers with these kinds of powerful rifles, and some are now raising concerns about the potential for devastating and fatal consequences if the guns get into the hands of the wrong people and if more schools follow suit.
This is just a slippery slope, said Tom Mauser, spokesman for gun control group Colorado Ceasefire and father of one of the victims of the 1999 Columbine high school mass shooting. When you have security people operating them as opposed to law enforcement, thats going to be a concern. Theyre probably not going to get the level of training police get.
The districts purchases, which have sparked outrage across the US, come as debates about how to prevent devastating school shootings continue to escalate.
Families of the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, which killed 20 six- and seven-year-old children, are currently suing the manufacturer of the Bushmaster assault rifle that was used in the attack a legal battle that has recently propelled gun control to the center of the 2016 presidential election.
At the same time, school officials and pro-gun groups in a number of regions have increasingly argued that staff should be equipped with the same military-style rifles that the shooters used in the Sandy Hook tragedy, the movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado, and the recent San Bernardino shooting.
In California, two school districts in Fresno County, 200 miles south-east of San Francisco, have recently approved policies to allow certain employees to carry guns. Additionally, people with concealed carry permits and gun rights groups this month sued the state of California, challenging a law restricting guns in schools.
Although there have also been numerous high-profile debates over the past year about the merits of allowing guns on college campuses, the concept of arming staff in K-12 schools with semi-automatic rifles appears to be novel.
In Douglas County, school officials have said the long guns will remain in locked cars a policy that has done little to appease opponents who point out that people frequently use guns stolen from law enforcement officials in violent and fatal crimes.
I dont think the solution to gun violence is to add more guns and more powerful destructive guns, said Eileen McCarron, president of Colorado Ceasefire Legislative Action, the lobbying arm of the group. These are weapons of war.
McCarron said she was also worried that if the guards decided to shoot their rifles at a suspect, the bullets could hit unintended targets. She pointed out that shots fired in the Aurora movie theater passed through a wall into a room next door.
If a security guard misses because the guy moves or whatever, what happens to that bullet? It goes through the wall, and who is on the other side of the wall?
Ken Trump, a consultant with the National School Safety and Security Services, said he has never heard of a school district taking this kind of approach before in part because there is often community backlash and concerns about the schools liability if something were to go wrong.
They want to have some firearm power that could compete with an active shooter, Trump said. This is a major ratcheting up of your firearms power.
Even as more schools consider arming staff in some capacity, Trump said he expects the criticisms of Douglas County could discourage other schools from buying assault rifles out of fear of a major PR disaster.
Theres a huge responsibility and liability that comes with this.
District spokeswoman Paula Hans noted that the guns would never be stored in schools and said the guards training will be rigorous. It is the exact same training that sworn law enforcement officers must go through.
She added that the districts security leaders wanted to expand the resources available in case of an emergency. We want to make sure we are always thinking proactively … [and] have the necessary tools to ensure the safety of students and staff.