***Post written by Joe Palladino, Central Representative & Legislative Chair for WSPA***
Now that the statewide and national political season is over, I thought it time to get a little political discussion going for all of us at the district level.
As you may know in additional to my being a School Psychologist for the past 41 years, I have also served on the local school board for 10 years. Like many districts around the state we have started our discussion concerning arming staff members (on a volunteer basis only). We have read through and discussed the state law concerning this issue numerous times. We have had (so far) two open community forums, and one presentation by the Lander Chief of Police and the Fremont county Sheriff. As both a board and individually we have tried to engage both staff and public whenever we can in a reasonable discussion concerning the issue. We have learned that few people have read the full law and of those that have, even fewer seem to understand it. It makes for difficult discussion when you throw in a good dose of emotion. It would appear that this will be a long process for our school district. We want to do it once and do it right, although there is no clear direction of what right is going to be. So much for the parts of this blog most all can agree with, and time to get into the part of the blog that will be somewhat more controversial.
I have no problem stating that I am in favor of arming some staff members at each and every one of our schools. We need a good policy to govern this action and we also need to at minimum follow state law concerning the issue and if necessary, go beyond state law when it comes to training, and determining which one of the volunteers will be able to be trained and then allowed to carry. State law calls for a Psychological Evaluation for any of those that become eligible for being armed at school and the school district is the final arbitrator of who might be allowed to be armed at school.
We as a school board have heard many different arguments as to why it is a bad idea to allow teachers to be armed, while we have also heard arguments as to why it is a good idea. It really strikes me as a simple idea. Are people safer being armed than not being armed? Do I feel safer when I travel the highways of Wyoming when I am armed or do I feel safer traveling without any weapon in the car? Do I feel safer when camping with a weapon or do I feel safer with only my martial arts skills (minimal at this point) to protect me and my family? When I go to bed at night do I feel that having a weapon nearby makes me less safe or do I feel it makes me more safe? If something happened at one of my district schools as has happened at other schools around the country, would I feel that having an armed staff member might minimize injury to students? As you may have guessed I would feel safer armed than not.
Would it be nice if the State of Wyoming would fund a School Resource Officer (SRO) or an armed security guard for each school in the state? Sure, that would be helpful, but I would still want armed staff. I view armed staff as a last-ditch effort of one staff member to protect students and other staff. Armed staff would not be an offensive force as a SRO would be, but when faced with an armed assailant would I like the ability of an armed staff member to be available to protect students? The answer is yes.
My district has locked doors and double door entry ways. Helpful but not foolproof. We also have 2 SROs on staff for 7 buildings. Once again helpful but not foolproof. Do I think Wyoming is immune to school violence? I would like to say yes, but I would be kidding myself. The country is a changing place, and in my opinion feel-good gun control will make no difference. Any of the mass shootings I can think of took place where no one else was armed or able to fight back. I would hope that armed staff would be a deterrent.
As a disclaimer I would state that I am an NRA Life Member (since 1980) and have a Wyoming Concealed Carry Permit. I feel comfortable around guns and, luckily, I have never had to use my own weapons to protect myself and family, and hope that I never have to. Further I have been a WSPA member since its inception, along with a NASP member since 1977. Not sure the last sentence is much of a disclaimer. I would hope that this blog generates some thinking about7 this issue as it is one that all districts in Wyoming will be facing.
Thanks Joe. This has been on my mind a lot lately. I am a hunter and gun owner but not a big fan of guns as anything other than a tool. It scares me to think that there could be individuals in our schools walking around with guns (other than an SRO of course). However, given the nature of our country and that this issue is coming up, I have taken the effort to take a concealed carry course. I would rather be one of the ones in the schools with a gun, than one of the ones without.
During my graduate degree program I worked in the education department of a women’s prison. Everyday I come to some of the schools I work in and it brings me great sadness that I feel we are getting closer and closer to the prison like atmosphere I worked in years ago. Locked doors, buttons that have to be pressed by someone of authority to let you through, radios to indicate whats going on around the school, windows protecting the secretaries with only small holes for interaction. Our schools are already starting to feel more like the prison I worked in than open education agencies for out children and communities.
While I am on board for anything that will keep our students (and my children who are coming of school age) safe. I am extremely hesitant to put guns in our schools.
Joe has an excellent commentary on the issue of arming staff in schools. The most important point is following the law in Wyoming. The second point that is critical is properly vetting potential candidates that might be approved to carry a firearm in a school. Finally, the third point Joe brings up is the function of the staff member who also carries a weapon in a school.
Whether you look in the literature related to self-defense, the philosophy of self-defense or the personal safety compendium, the first reaction is to avoid a fight. School personnel should be defensive. Let the SROs do their job – if they are available.