Armed guards in schools discussed at District 51 meeting
The possibility of armed volunteers in District 51 schools sparked a debate among law enforcement, school officials and a local pro-gun rights group at Tuesday’s District 51 School Board meeting.
The board invited input from Grand Junction Police Chief John Camper, Mesa County Undersheriff Rebecca Spiess and Interim Palisade Police Chief Mike Nordine as well as Pro Second Amendment Committee members David Cox and Rich Bacher, former chief of the Delta Police Department.
Cox told the board the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. shook people’s confidence in school safety. Potential ways to strengthen security, he suggested, could include allowing teachers to conceal and carry guns in school, inviting law enforcement officers to patrol schools more frequently, or having armed and unarmed volunteers patrol schools. Given recent budget constrictions, Cox said inviting trained volunteers into schools may be a better option than relying on officers.
Bacher said he supports the idea of armed volunteers and suggested the district could solicit donations to pay for training and background checks for the volunteers. Ideally, volunteers would be former law enforcement workers and emergency personnel, Bacher said.
“The community wants to be part of it. Just because I retired didn’t mean I went brain dead,” he said.
Camper said the idea was “certainly worth talking about some more” and added he has “varying levels of comfort” with armed civilians in schools as long as they are properly trained. Training would have to go beyond typical conceal and carry instruction, he said, and include guidance about how to handle having a weapon in a setting with children and people who may try to take possession of a volunteer’s gun. He also suggested schools would be safer if it were easier for people to report suspicions someone may bring a gun to a school and if more was done to keep guns away from the mentally ill.
Nordine said he has some concerns about arming volunteers, particularly while emotions continue to boil over after Sandy Hook.
“I think a rash move right after a tragedy is questionable,” Nordine said. “In principle, I don’t disagree, but I caution we move slowly.”
Board Vice President Leslie Kiesler teared up as she called the desire to put armed volunteers in schools “overreacting.” She explained she has several police officers in her family and has heard that many mass shooters have mental health issues and some shoot officers with their own weapons. She said an Arapahoe Sheriff’s Officer was in the building when the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School occurred in Littleton.
“When you’re putting guns in schools, all you’re doing is putting an implement of death in schools for the perpetrators to use,” she said.
Other board members remained mostly silent on the issue. Board member Jeff Leany said he discussed with legislators what current laws allow and what may need to change to take certain actions on school safety. Board member Ann Tisue said the incident at Sandy Hook may spur the district to find funding for volunteers to patrol schools, unarmed or armed.
Superintendent Steve Schultz said training focused on how to spot and deal with school shooters is in the works, while other suggestions will have to be weighed.
“I realize there are going to be a lot of voices on this,” Schultz said. “The common ground is we want our schools to be safe.”