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Should Principals Carry Guns on Campus?

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Would arming teachers and administrators improve safety at public schools, and potentially even mitigate tragedies like the Sandy Hook shootings, as a Texas congressman has suggested?

I asked Michael Foran, principal of New Britain High School in Connecticut – located about 50 miles from Newtown – whether he would accept an offer of a gun, training and a permit that would allow him to come armed to campus.

“I would absolutely decline,” said Foran, who was named the METLife 2012 principal of the year by the National Association of Secondary School Principals. “I think there are a whole lot of other ways to make both schools and our communities safer, and more guns is not one of them.”

As reported by The Hill, Rep. Louie Gohmert, (R-Texas) said on Fox News that he wished Sandy Hook Principal Dawn Hochsprung— who was shot and killed in last Friday’s rampage – had an M-4 in her office that she could have used to defend herself and her school.

His comments have stirred some outrage, but the possibility of armed school personnel isn’t that far-fetched. Last week in Michigan, just one day before the tragedy in Newtown  – lawmakers passed legislation allowing individuals with concealed weapons permits to undergo extra training to carry guns onto sites that were previously off-limits. Those include places of worships, hospitals, bars – and schools. The American Federation of Teachers has urged Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to veto the bill.

And in South Dakota on Monday, Republican state lawmaker Betty Olson said she planned to introduce legislation that would allow teachers, principals and janitors to carry concealed weapons. She echoed Gohmert’s stance that fewer people might have died at Sandy Hook Elementary had the staff been armed.

“Those children and teachers, that was like shooting fish in a barrel,” Olson told the Associated Press.
Olson will likely find her proposal a tough sell, especially on the other side of the aisle.

“I’m not sure a janitor is necessarily qualified to take down an armed shooter,” South Dakota Senate Democratic Caucus Chairwoman Angie Buhl told the AP. “I have some concerns about that specific proposal.”

While the debate over the nation’s gun laws is expected to extend for many weeks and months, school officials like Foran are focusing on the immediate tasks at hand – reassuring parents, reviewing existing safety procedures, and considering what measures should be taken to make campuses safer. And just as importantly, “we’re talking to kids and reassuring them we do everything we can to protect them,” Foran said.
From California to Maine, similar messages have been relayed to families via emails, auto-dial voicemail messages, and letters sent home with students. Principals shared recommendations from school psychologists and experts about how to discuss the shootings with younger children as well as teens. Some districts have opted for more visible security measures. In Knox County, Tenn., the sheriff’s office is providing extra deputies to patrol elementary, middle and high school campuses. In Fredericksburg, Va., the two largest districts in the area will have sheriff’s deputies posted at every school.

The increased police presence on campus is expected to remain in place at least until districts break for the winter holidays. In Newtown, classes are expected to resume as early as this week for the 450 Sandy Hook students who survived the attack, although they will meet in a different location. The school is now a crime scene, and it’s too soon to know the district’s future plans for the site. In prior school shootings, such as Columbine, a massive renovation took place before students returned.

Having students return at some point to the original school could be a “helpful, therapeutic intervention,” said Carrie Epstein, assistant clinical professor at the Yale University School of Medicine and its director of training for the Childhood Violent Trauma Center. But that shouldn’t happen until the facility is restored to its original condition, with no traces remaining of the crime, she said.

“It’s something that we do carefully and mindfully when returning to a school – a place that’s already full of reminders,” Epstein said.