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Safety options weighed
Local reactions mixed to proposals by NRA
Sunday, December 23, 2012
By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer
Local officials had varied opinions on the National Rifle Association’s proposals Friday calling for Congress to appropriate funds for an armed guard in every school.
The NRA also proposed developing a model National School Shield Emergency Response Program and providing resources, including training, for every school that wants it at no cost to schools.
Henry County Schools Superintendent Jared Cotton said it would be good to have a school resource officer (SRO) at every school in the division. The division now has four SROs who primarily serve the high schools and middle schools but also assist at elementary schools, Cotton said.
Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry said the SROs are armed police officers.
Cotton said having an SRO at every school would be a better approach than arming educators.
Last week, Gov. Bob McDonnell said the idea of educators carrying weapons at schools is worthy of discussion. “If people were armed, not just a police officer but other school officials who were trained and chose to have a weapon,” the governor said, “certainly there would have been an opportunity to stop aggressors coming into the schools,” the Virginian-Pilot reported.
Cotton also said that any training offered by NRA to schools should be coordinated with local law enforcement.
Martinsville Police Chief Mike Rogers said he agreed “100 percent we need armed guards in every school.”
A lot of perpetrators of mass shootings are “cowards — like a school bully ... . As long as they have the gun, they have the upper hand,” he said.
Having an armed guard at every school would make students and educators feel safer if nothing else, knowing there is someone to confront the perpetrator, Rogers said.
In reality, though, Rogers said, “There’s no way you can say that’s going to stop school shootings. The guy who is hell-bent on committing a mass murder in school who is crazy, the first person who he is going to take out is the person with a gun. But the officer is going to have a better chance than anybody else. Like the NRA said, the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
“When it’s a matter of life and death and seconds count and the police are minutes away, if you don’t have a gun, you are at the mercy of the person who does,” Rogers said.
“I commend the NRA 100 percent” for its offer to provide resources including training programs to schools at no cost to the schools, he added. “I think it’s a great idea.”
The NRA also called on “millions of qualified active and retired police; active, reserve and retired military; security professionals; certified firefighters and rescue personnel; and an extraordinary corps of patriotic, trained qualified citizens to join with local school officials and police in devising a protection plan for every school. We can deploy them to protect our kids now.”
Rogers said there probably are parents and grandparents with prior law enforcement and military experience would could assist with school security.
Cotton said there could be costs associated with updating training and certifications for such people, and some might not be in a position to volunteer. He added that some retired troopers and police officers already “have reached out to serve in some capacity.”
Rogers and Perry both agreed with the NRA’s comments about violent video games and movies being detrimental. “There’s so much violence kids are seeing on TV and in video games that they get desensitized to the reality of going out here and killing somebody,” Rogers said.
Perry added that the violent games and movies “desensitizes people to the value of life.”
Rogers also made several points about the broader national debate following the Dec. 14 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which claimed the lives of 20 students and six adults.
As for calls for gun control following the incident, Rogers said banning assault rifles is not going to solve the problem. He said the pistols Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook shooter, was carrying produce much bigger holes and probably can be reloaded faster than the assault rifle Lanza was shooting.
“Anybody who thinks we can outlaw guns in this country and make it safer — impossible. ... We will always have people violating the laws. It’s a reality of society. We’re always going to have guns. Outlawing them is only going to make it safe for the criminal and make law-abiding citizens vulnerable,” Rogers said.
“What happened at Sandy Hook can happen anywhere there is a gathering of people — at school ... at work ... at church,” he added.
“There are deranged people out here everywhere without a conscience that can commit these kinds of crimes. It’s one reason why I am so much in favor of citizens having concealed weapons permits so they can defend themselves and hopefully save somebody else from being killed,” Rogers said.
Perry said he thinks people are reacting out of shock and horror at the Sandy Hook deaths.
“I am taking a middle-of-the-road approach. Right now extreme ends of the spectrum are very vocal,” he said. He added that he thinks proponents of gun control are on one extreme and proponents of having an armed guard in every school are on the other extreme.
Perry said he believes the best approach probably lies in the middle. Communities need to come together with calm heads and varied opinions to determine the best course of action for school security, he added.
He said security of children is of paramount importance, but schools should not be fortresses.
Perry also said society needs to teach better coping skills.
Fifth District U.S. Rep. Robert Hurt, R-Chatham, stated in an email: “The families and the children affected in Newtown are in our thoughts and prayers. The fact that our Constitution includes our Second Amendment, and that we as a nation value those rights, is not the reason that this horrific and senseless tragedy occurred.
“However, to be sure, the horrible events in Newtown do give cause to examine policies that will ensure greater safety in our communities and our schools. In the aftermath of the tragedy in Newtown, we must take a comprehensive look at finding ways to prevent such tragedies, including examining measures to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill,” he added.
Martinsville School Superintendent Pam Heath could not be reached for comment Friday.