What is the answer to keeping children as safe as they can possibly be in schools?
New reports and court rulings support the actions that many schools are taking to keep students safe in the likely event that law enforcement is still minutes away — critical minutes when mass shooters inflict the greatest harm.
First, there is the draft report out of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission. A former student murdered 17 students and staff members during the 7-minute massacre on Valentine’s Day. The commission, chaired by Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, took a thorough look at diverse aspects of the incident and recommended, among other conclusions, that the Florida legislature allow the arming of teachers and other school staff.
Sheriff Gualtieri said that most deaths happen in the first few minutes, before law enforcement arrives. He further stated, “We have to give people a fighting chance to protect themselves. One good guy with a gun on a campus is not enough.” The Commission passed the recommendation to arm school staff with a 13-1 vote.
Second, two separate lawsuits, brought by the families of the victims at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School against the school resource officer (SRO) and other defendants, yielded conflicting rulings:
One suit was dismissed, based on a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court precedentthat states that police do not have a constitutional duty to protect a person from harm. But, Broward County Circuit Judge Patti Englander Henning refused to dismiss a lawsuit based on a similar argument. This Judge found that the SRO had, “an obligation to act reasonably,” because his job was school security. Appeals on both of these cases will surely advance this conversation.
Finally, there is a Comprehensive Resource Guide for Keeping Students, Teachers Safe at School published by the Federal Commission on School Safety. Although the Guide recommends training for school staffers and students to deal with active killer events, it stops short of recommending armed staff. The commission training recommendations include Run, Hide, Fight, and medical training to address the injured, including victims of gunshots. But the Guide doesn’t address who on campus has the ability to stop the killer. There is no indication in the Guide that the Commission members toured any of the hundreds of schools that are known to have armed staff policies.
Some skeptics believe that teachers don’t want to be armed, that they could never get enough training to be effective, or that schools would be less safe with armed school staff.
But the key question for schools to answer when it comes to safety policies is this: What is the school going to do to keep their children as safe as they can possibly be, between the time someone starts killing people on their campus, and the time that professional law enforcement arrives?
Hundreds of school districts across the country have answered that question by enacting armed staff policies. They realize the hard truth that most mass casualty events are over well before law enforcement arrives, meaning school staff are the best resources to stop killers.
We do know, based on past school massacre incidents, that teachers and other staff are willing to put their bodies between bullets and children. Many have died as heroes to save children. Shouldn’t they also have the option to protect children, and live?
From the experience of FASTER Saves Lives in Ohio, and FASTER Colorado, we know that when schools opt for armed staff policies, there is no shortage of school staff members who volunteer to be armed on campus and undergo rigorous training. These training standards meet or exceed the requirements of relevant law enforcement qualifications in their respective states.
The example of the SRO in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who refused to run toward the gunfire to save lives offends our sensibilities. Most Americans —including members of the law enforcement community itself — believe that law enforcement should protect us, and they often do: In the 2013 Arapahoe High School killing in suburban Denver, Colo., there was an SRO who ran to the library, the site of the murder. One student, Claire Davis, lost her life. The killer committed suicide when he became aware that the SRO was running toward the scene. His actions reduced the loss of life. But what if the librarian had been armed? Would there have been a chance to save Claire Davis?
The more quickly that mass killers are stopped, the fewer people will die. More parents and school districts every year are coming to the conclusion that armed staff can save lives while they wait for law enforcement to arrive.
Laura Carno is a visiting fellow at Independent Women's Forum and the founder and executive director of FASTER Colorado.