If an armed police officer had been at Sandy Hook Elementary School the morning of Dec. 14, eating breakfast or filling out paperwork in the cafeteria, would the outcome have been the same?
We’ll never know, of course, but it stands to reason that the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting would have stood a better chance if somebody other than the bad guy had carried a gun that horrific morning.
That’s why we’re encouraged by the steps being taken by the Douglas County School District in the wake of the Connecticut tragedy. The first school day after the shooting, superintendent Elizabeth Fagen convened a meeting of law-enforcement officials in Douglas County, brainstormed about innovations and initiatives aimed at protecting kids, and then sent out an email to parents outlining a concrete plan of action for dealing with school shootings.
The plan, drawn up with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and three city police departments, includes several provisions designed to bring a greater police presence to district schools without breaking the bank or turning classrooms into armed camps.
Starting immediately, the district is providing free school lunches to any police officer or deputy who stops by the cafeteria of any school. The district is also inviting on-duty officers to work on their reports and other paperwork on campus, instead of at their offices or elsewhere, thus “providing an increased law enforcement presence at our schools,” said Fagen.
In addition, the district has established a safety committee to evaluate the idea of a school-marshal program modeled along the lines of the air-marshal program used by the airlines. The armed, plain-clothes marshals would cover an undisclosed number of schools, but one marshal would make an appearance at each school each day.
“These marshals would likely be police officers with current training, etc.,” said Fagen in the email, adding that “This is a joint project that will take some time to put together and implement well.”
The district is looking at other measures, including building improvements and teacher training, but the decision to increase the presence of armed officers shows that district officials are serious about school safety.
Legislators in Washington and Denver are expected to consider restrictions on access to firearms in the next few months. Gov. John Hickenlooper has already proposed expanding the state’s mental-health services and making it more difficult for those with psychiatric problems to buy guns.
As Coloradans know all too well, however, none of these measures is guaranteed to stop a madman from getting his hands on a gun. Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were too young to buy guns, so they had their friends do it for them. Sandy Hook murderer Adam Lanza stole his mother’s firearms after shooting her.
While the facts of Sandy Hook are still emerging, we know from Columbine that these deranged killers are careful planners. They pick meaningful dates and target their assaults on the defenseless and the innocent. They know they are unlikely to meet resistance within gun-free school zones.
Given these realities, schools need to be prepared both to play defense and spread the word that they’re no longer sitting ducks. Inviting armed officers to campus as regular visitors sends the signal that Douglas County schools are no longer willing to depend on the fiction of the gun-free zone for their safety. Other Colorado schools would do well to follow their lead.