El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa believes he has the answer to school security in the wake of the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Arm teachers and administrators.
He is so convinced it would work that he is offering to help train teachers and administrators and to waive his charge for concealed weapons permits.
Applicants would still have to pay other charges, such as the Colorado Bureau of Investigation clearance.
“Right now, the situation we have is an aggressor can go into any elementary or middle school and he has the upper hand because chances are no one in the school is carrying a firearm,” Maketa said.
Schools, he added, “have some very qualified teachers. Just because they are teachers doesn’t mean they haven’t had firearms training or aren’t a lifelong firearms enthusiast.”
Arming teachers isn’t a new idea. Indeed, the idea is making the rounds nationally. It’s a favorite of the NRA.
Lawmakers in Oklahoma, Tennessee and Alabama have said they intend to introduce laws allowing teachers and other school personnel to carry weapons. So far, Colorado legislators have not taken up the issue.
Under the Gun-Free School Zones Act, guns are not allowed in schools unless carried by law enforcement or security personnel. Others in possession of a concealed weapons permit must leave their firearm in a vehicle.
“I have always thought that all we are doing by schools setting policies that do not allow firearms by staff or anyone is creating a zone where a person can do some type of informal risk analysis and know his chance of success is pretty high since the only response would be law enforcement,” Maketa said. “We all know what kind of damage can be done in 10 minutes.”
In addition to providing immediate response to an attack, Maketa said arming teachers and administrators would act as a deterrent.
“I just think that school districts that elect to allow their teachers to carry should be proud of it and should make it well known as a serious deterrent,” he said.
Maketa’s offer has one possible taker so far.
The Falcon School District 49 board on Thursday will consider whether to obtain a concealed carry permit for its safety and emergency coordinator, a former law enforcement officer, said Stephanie Wurtz, Falcon spokeswoman.
“In this role he doesn’t have that certification for concealed carry and we are in the process of looking into that,” Wurtz said.
Wurtz said the district will likely consider Maketa’s offer.
“The timing would be perfect for us,” she said.
While less enthused about the possibility of arming teachers, other school districts are looking into security issues.
Patrick Cullen, superintendent at Ellicott School District 22, said the district recently reviewed its security plans.
Arming teachers, in his opinion, “would not be our first and best option.”
“The district has reviewed safety strategies and current practices, but the conversation did not go down the road as far as arming teachers and administrators,” he said. “We have safety meetings every month and we try to monitor all people who come into our building.”
Calhan School District RJ-1 Superintendent Linda Miller said the issue of school security has been a top consideration.
“This has been on my mind as far as what kind of legislation or what might happen, whether it becomes a local control issue or the federal or state governments tell us what we are going to do,” Miller said. “I’m not going to say I’m a fan or not. I think there still has to be some careful discussion around the best way to take care of the problem that we have. I think it goes beyond arming teachers.”
Nanette Anderson, spokeswoman for Academy School District 20, said in a written statement the district has armed security officers “stationed at, or patrolling, our schools every day, 24 hours a day.”
Off-duty Colorado Springs police officers also act as school resources officers, she said.
“Academy District 20 has strict requirements for our armed security officers including a psychological examination, semi-annual firearm qualification and classroom training,” she said. “We regulate the type of firearms and ammunition our security officers use.”
Armed guards are also used at Colorado Springs School District 11, said Devra Ashby, the district’s spokeswoman.
“We have to abide by state and federal law and will continue to do so,” she said. “We also collaborate with local law enforcement agencies.”
The district is working with the Colorado Springs Police Department on walk-throughs, she added. Palmer High School recently reassessed its security, she said.
“You can never guarantee someone’s safety 100 percent, no matter where you are, even in your own home,” she said. “We have heard from our parents and shareholders and know their concerns and are willing to work with them.”
Jim Swift sees it from the perspective of a concerned parent.
A Colorado Springs resident who has two children in area schools, he said he backs the sheriff. He and his wife, Annette, have sent letters to the sheriff’s office and school districts about security.
“We have children here in Colorado Springs and it’s our opinion that good intentions don’t stop evil, armed security people stop evil,” Jim Swift said. “We would feel more comfortable if armed personnel protected our children.”
Swift added that whatever steps school districts take, from hiring additional security or replacing unarmed security personnel with armed guards or arming teachers and administrators “is fine with us. Any of that is preferable to nothing.”