The truth about armed guards in schools

Maureen Martin Senior Fellow for Legal Affairs, The Heartland Institute
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Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, was greeted with derision when he proposed placing an armed police officer in every school to protect students.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, for example, reacted with this statement:

“It’s outrageous and unsettling that the NRA would choose to address gun violence not by taking assault weapons off our streets, but by adding more guns to our schools. … That is not the right answer for our society, our schools and most importantly our children.”

That’s an odd reaction, because the Chicago Public Schools already spend $41 million per year on police and security officers in the schools. Emanuel appoints the seven school board members and the public school system’s CEO. And the mayor’s children have been guarded for several years by at least one armed police officer at the private school they attend, the University of Chicago Laboratory.

President Barack Obama’s two daughters attend Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C., where they have been protected by 11 armed guards, with a twelfth to be hired. Plus, the two daughters have Secret Service protection. “One of the main incentives of running [for re-election] was continued Secret Service protection so we can have men with guns around at all times,” Obama jokingly told ABC’s Barbara Walters three days before Newtown. But it’s a point worth noting.

Already, there is a substantial police presence in 90 percent of large urban and suburban schools (more than 1,000 students) and in 26 percent of schools with fewer than 300 students. In 2000, President Bill Clinton announced a Justice Department program called COPS in School to provide 452 officers in schools in 220 communities.

The Los Angeles Unified School District has its own special police department, the Los Angeles School Police Department, with 350 sworn police officers and 126 non-sworn school safety officers. It is the fifth-largest police department in Los Angeles County.

Utah has allowed school personnel to carry concealed weapons for 12 years, as does Hawaii, New Hampshire, and Oregon. Delaware and Ohio allow concealed carry of a firearm if a school district authorizes it. After the Newtown shooting, officials in Tennessee, Virginia, and Missouri called for guns in schools.

In 2008, the Harrold Independent School District in tiny Harrold, Texas, decided to allow concealed carry in schools by school teachers and staff with concealed carry permits and approval by the school board. Superintendent David Thweatt said the district is about 30 minutes away from the nearest police station. “We’re the first responders. We have to be,” he said. He said the district didn’t want a plan under which students would “lock yourself in your closet and hope that an intruder won’t hurt you. So what we came up with was a policy that would protect.”

Police in Newtown took 20 minutes after the first 911 call to respond. “Twenty minutes. Five minutes is forever when violence is underway, but 20 minutes — a third of an hour — means that the ‘first responders’ aren’t likely to do much more than clean up the mess,” said law professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds.

Response time is exactly the problem. As Professor Nelson Lund points out, police and government are powerless to respond to emergency calls in time to protect citizens from criminal violence. And as John Lott definitively demonstrated in his 2000 book, more guns means less crime.

Are armed teachers and staff a possible solution? Numerous school districts all over the country have already decided the answer is “yes.” One thing is clear: It’s an idea that does not deserve to be greeted with scorn.

Maureen Martin, J.D. (mmartin@heartland.org) is senior fellow for legal affairs at The Heartland Institute.