What Could Go Wrong With Armed Guards in Schools?

Sheriff Joe Arpaio wants armed posses patrolling schools—there are better ways to prevent school violence

A row of shotguns are seen during the East Coast Fine Arms Show in Stamford, Connecticut
Armed guards may or may not stop the next Newtown shooting. They are also likely to kill or injure students while waiting for the next attack. (Photo: Carlo Allegri/Reuters)
Matt Fleischer is a TakePart contributor who was awarded a Fund for Investigative Journalism grant for his series “Dangerous Jails.”

The year was 2002, and a student at the High School of Science and Technology in Tulsa, Oklahoma, had just been suspended for misbehavior. As he angrily exited the campus, the student got into a heated run-in with an armed school security guard from the private firm Pinkerton.

Threats were exchanged, and the student suddenly reached into his coat.

Feeling threatened, the guard pulled out a gun and fired at the student—but missed badly. The bullet ricocheted off the concrete before connecting with a different 15-year-old student, just below his torso. Miraculously, the bullet hit the student’s cellphone and caused only superficial damage. Police later discovered the suspended student was unarmed.

The lesson, however, should have been clear—the more guns you have on campus, the more chance a student has of getting shot.

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In the weeks since the tragic murder of 20 elementary school students in Newtown, Connecticut, the cry for increased school safety measures has been deafening across America—arguably with good reason. On January 10, 2013, as this story was being typed up, a 16-year-old high-school student brought a shotgun to school in the small exurban community of Taft, California, on the outskirts of Los Angeles, and fired at another student—injuring him severely—before ultimately surrendering to a teacher.

In my own town of Glendale, California, helicopters rattled my home office for hours last week after a bomb threat was called into a nearby elementary school.

In the face of such incidents, nervous parents across America are desperate to ensure the safety of their children. Unfortunately, the most popular solution being bandied is to add even more guns to the school mix. In Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio has vowed to recruit 500 armed volunteers to patrol school grounds.

“Why would people complain about my posse being in front of schools to act as prevention?” Arpaio asked Fox News Latino.

Perhaps because of the inevitable repeat of a Tulsa-like incident.

“Alarms not only alert the entire school to the threat of danger, they also have a psychological impact on the shooter. It lets him know that help will soon be on the way, and it disturbs his thinking pattern.”

“When you introduce guns to any workplace environment, and especially when you put them in the hands of people outside of law enforcement, who are not trained to deal with tense situations, you’re introducing a new risk,” security expert James Grayson tells TakePart. Grayson is a longtime patrol sergeant at Cal State Los Angeles who has done security consulting for the better part of two decades.

Grayson says that, while in some cases, armed patrols provided by law enforcement officials can be an appropriate answer to a school’s security issues, there are almost always simpler, safer solutions. Particulalry if the desire is to prevent Newtown-style shootings, which—though they gather plenty of media attention—are extremely rare.

One simple, nonviolent solution is to reinforce ground-floor windows with bullet-resistant glass.

“In the case of Newtown, the shooter could have still fired through these windows,” says Grayson, “but Kevlar protection would have denied him a point of entry.”

Magnetic locks on all school doors can have a similar effect. Unlike traditional locks, which can easily be shot to pieces, magnetic locks make it much more difficult for armed tresspassers to gain entry to a school.

Additionally, equipping schools with something as simple as panic button alarms can make things safer.

“Alarms not only alert the entire school to the threat of danger, letting them know to get to designated safe rooms, they also have a psychological impact on the shooter,” says Grayson. “It lets him know that help will soon be on the way, and it disturbs his thinking pattern, making it more difficult to carry out the task at hand.”

Most importantly, these simple steps—unlike armed guards—are not only relatively inexpensive, they carry no additional risks to students.

“School safety is what is important here,” Andy Pelosi, executive director of States United to Prevent Gun Violence, tells TakePart. “My hope is that as a nation we’ll really think about the complexity of this issue, and not just allocate more money for armed guards.”

The reality is that shootings of the Newtown ilk are extreme aberrations. “Your child has a better chance of being struck by lightning,” says Grayson. “In fact, the most dangerous time for students is standing in front of school, waiting to be picked up. Being stuck by a car is far and away the most likely way a student will be killed.”

That doesn’t mean schools shouldn’t have contingency plans for Newtown-like events. Those plans, however, should not put students at additional risk. If Sheriff Joe’s methodology catches on, you can bet it’s only a matter of time before Newtown gives way to another Tulsa.

Would more guns on campus make you feel more or less secure about sending your kid to school? Reason it out in COMMENTS.

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