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Published: Thursday, 12/27/2012

Arming schools

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said last week that he does not oppose putting more guns in schools. It’s the duty and moral obligation of parents and public officials to reduce the risk of another Newtown massacre by improving school security, Mr. DeWine argued.

But there is no evidence that turning schools into armed camps will make students safer. To the contrary, putting guns in schools could increase the chance of firearms-related injuries.

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In the aftermath of the Connecticut school shootings that left 26 people — including 20 children — dead, National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre made clear that his group won’t moderate its opposition to any attempt to regulate access to guns. He saw the tragedy at Sandy Hook school as an opportunity to expand armed territory.

Before grieving parents had finished burying their 6 and 7-year old children, Mr. LaPierre blustered that “only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun.” He offered the NRA’s 4.3 million members to lead the effort to put volunteers with weapons — such as military veterans and former police officers — in schools across the nation.

But would the prospect of mutually assured destruction make classrooms the safe, nurturing environments they are intended to be? Despite tragedies such as Sandy Hook, numerous studies conclude that children are only half as likely to be victims of serious crimes at school as they are outside of school.

The argument that more guns automatically make Americans safer is false. America has more guns per person than any other modern industrialized nation. We also have the most gun violence, including homicides.

According to the online magazine Salon, researchers at Harvard University found that when they compared U.S. states to each other and the United States to other countries, “where there are more guns, there is more homicide.”

Local parents and school administrators are understandably jittery. After the Connecticut massacre, there was an alleged shooting threat at Whitmer High School. A visit by Monroe County sheriff’s deputies to Bedford Public School buildings led to false rumors that a SWAT team had been dispatched.

Perrysburg parents challenged school board members about the ease of access to buildings in that district. Blade reporters who visited schools in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan recently to test school security measures found a variety of procedures in place, strictly enforced at some schools, lax at others.

Largely forgotten is that the Newtown gunman shot out a window to get into the school. Short of turning schools into fortresses, there is no way to ensure that a determined killer can’t gain access.

An armed guard did not stop the Columbine school massacre. A SWAT-like police team could not prevent people from dying at Virginia Tech.

Weapons in schools increase certain risks. They can be fired accidentally. If they are not secured, they can be found by curious or suicidal children. They can be picked up by potential killers.

There are things that schools can do to improve security: Limit the number of places where people can get into buildings. Install alarms to warn school personnel and first responders of danger. Coordinate with responders to draw up plans to deal with disaster scenarios. And most important, remain vigilant.

Arming teachers or employing guards with guns exchanges the hope of greater security from killers for the possibility that more teachers and students could be killed in a gun battle — including from friendly fire. That’s a bad trade.

 



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