THE horrible events in Connecticut have left citizens on edge, yet the sight of armed men and women near many Oklahoma schools this week has not only been welcomed, but requested. That's because those armed individuals have been police officers.
At schools statewide, officials have asked police to increase patrols. Yet at the same time school officials welcome armed officers, many oppose arming principals or teachers who have police-style gun training.
It's an odd juxtaposition that shows how conflicted our society is over the issue of firearms. We entrust school officials with our children, but hesitate to entrust our children's protection to those same individuals if they possess a gun.
This may be shortsighted. In 1997, Luke Woodham's shooting spree at Pearl High School in Mississippi — he killed two and wounded seven — was stopped when a vice-principal retrieved his own gun from his car. Woodham had planned to drive to the junior high and continue killing.
In many cases, the mere sight of a gun deters criminals. This may be why “gun free” areas appear more likely to become targets. Economist John Lott, who has studied mass shootings, told National Review that all but one public shooting where more than three people have been killed since 1950 “has taken place where citizens are not allowed to carry guns.”
Those factors are a reason state Rep. Mark McCullough, R-Sapulpa, has called for allowing teachers and principals to carry a firearm on school property if they have obtained certification from the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training. The early response of education officials has been negative, citing safety concerns.
Stan Florence, director of the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, notes that responding to an active shooter is far tougher in reality than in the abstract. Oklahoma City Superintendent Karl Springer said he would prefer increased funding to boost law enforcement presence at schools, while in Tulsa the district has a campus police department with 23 sworn, certified officers.
This may be a better option for large districts with financial resources, but many of Oklahoma's 500-plus districts are small and geographically isolated. For those districts, extra security may be unaffordable; travel times could impede a swift law-enforcement response to a crisis. Such concerns led the tiny Harrold school district in northwest Texas to allow staff members to carry concealed handguns starting in 2007.
There is no perfect plan. Some districts may rely on in-house security or local police, while educational staff may be crucial in others. Districts' varying needs and demographics make this a true local control issue; one size will not fit all.
Sadly, in no case can it be certain a school will never be targeted. No one can predict the unpredictable or be totally prepared for it.
Even if authorized, we doubt most teachers would carry a weapon. But those who obtain CLEET certification could likely be trusted. More than 144,000 Oklahomans possess a right-to-carry license with little problem.
Lawmakers shouldn't pass a law to simply say they've done something in response to Connecticut. But nor should they reject proposals in a knee-jerk fashion either. McCullough's legislation may not ultimately warrant enactment, but with children's lives potentially on the line, it does deserve careful consideration and thoughtful analysis.