It's one thing for school districts to employ police officers who are highly trained in the use of firearms to augment campus security. It's quite something else to ask teachers, administrators and janitors to take on that role. Yet that's precisely the proposal that's been put forth by a group of Republican state lawmakers who want to allow education funds to be used to train school staff as backup security officers authorized to carry concealed weapons.
The idea was proposed by Assemblyman Tim Donnelly of San Bernardino, who knows something about concealed weapons: He was arrested last year for trying to take a loaded handgun onto a flight at the Ontario airport. His co-author is, among others, our own Assemblywoman Shannon Grove.
The idea is supposedly modeled on the air marshals program, which assigns armed officers posing as ordinary passengers to board certain commercial flights. But there's a major difference. Air marshals have expert training in using weapons and defusing dangerous situations; it's their primary job. Teachers and janitors do not, nor is their level of shooting experience ever likely to approach that of a federal marshal.
The proposal raises other issues as well. What if a school shooting occurs and none of the armed staff is able to respond in time? Is the school more legally liable for injuries or deaths that result in part because its own trained staff failed to stop the bloodshed? What if a trained teacher or janitor does manage to summon deadly force but shoots an innocent bystander? What if word gets around to certain students which teacher has a gun and which desk drawer he stores it in? Surely a negative outcome from any of those scenarios would cause the school's legal vulnerability to grow.
It's great that lawmakers are thinking of ways to make school safer, but the idea that a gun-toting teacher or janitor is going to fend off a Newtown- or Columbine-like attacker is delusional. Even a trained U.S. marshal would be at a disadvantage against a gunman who strikes with the advantage of surprise, clad in body armor and toting three semi-automatic weapons capable of firing numerous rounds per second.
Schools should have the latitude to do what they feel necessary to protect their students, with input from parents and the community. But if put into action, Donnelly's proposal would do little more than create a false sense of security by allowing an arsenal of loaded weapons into school each day.
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