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Amid Calls For Gun Control, Some Push For Weapons At School

Dec 18, 2012
Originally published on December 20, 2012 3:16 pm

A growing number of lawmakers are indicating they are open to considering new gun control measures in the wake of Friday's school shooting in Newtown, Conn. But while much of the national debate has focused on limiting access to guns, others are suggesting that schools should arm themselves to defend against attacks.

David Thweatt, school superintendent for the small Texas town of Harrold, northwest of Fort Worth, decided in 2006 that it was time to arm his staff. There's only one school in Harrold, a K-12 with 103 students.

Before 2006, there had already been enough carnage at U.S. schools that Thweatt had cameras installed, as well as magnetic locks that could be thrown at the first sign of trouble. But then came the Amish school shooting in October 2006, when 10 girls, ages 6 through 13, were shot.

"And that concerned us, because that was the milk delivery man. We would have let a milk delivery man into our school," Thweatt says. "We would have allowed him to come in. Then we would have had an active shooter."

Just months later, a gunman at Virginia Tech shot 49 people, killing 32.

"Basically, our plan was [the same as] Virginia Tech," Thweatt says of his school's policy at the time. "You lock the doors, secure it. And then get the kids under the desk or get them out of the way of possible stray bullets. But that's exactly what everyone at Virginia Tech did."

For School Staff, Extensive Weapons Training

The tiny town of Harrold is 20 minutes away from the nearest law enforcement responders, which made everyone feel even more vulnerable. In Newtown, about four minutes passed between the first 911 call made from inside Sandy Hook Elementary and the panicked call reporting that the gunfire had stopped.

Thweatt won't say how many school staff are armed, so a potential shooter won't know. Staff members have received extensive weapons training, and their guns are loaded with special polymer bullets that fracture into hundreds of relatively harmless pieces if the bullet misses its target.

So now, when there's a nightmarish massacre of children at some distant school, Thweatt says parents in Harrold don't dread that their children could be next.

"On Friday, there was an outpouring of grief from my parents," Thweatt says. "And an outpouring of gratefulness that we had [this] policy in place to protect our children."

Giving Kids 'A Fighting Chance,' Advocates Say

Advocates of armed school security say there's another reason to arm the schools. St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch in Missouri says mass shooters target schools because they are unprotected. Cafeterias, waiting rooms, playgrounds, church sanctuaries, movie theaters and classrooms — Fitch says they're treasure to cowards who want to murder as many as possible, as quickly as possible, without facing armed resistance.

"What I'm saying is, we need to give our kids in our schools a fighting chance. And the only way I think to do that until the police arrive on the scene is to have either a police officer assigned to that school, or armed security," Fitch says. "If you can't afford that, you should consider allowing school personnel with proper training to be able to have a firearm at the school."

But Jonathan Lowy, director of the Legal Action Project at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, says the discussion about arming schools is a distraction.

"Most Americans reject the idea that the answer to gun violence is to shoot our way out of every situation," Lowy says. "What we need to do is make it harder for dangerous people to get guns."

In this country, Lowy says, 40 percent of gun sales have no background check done whatsoever.

"I really believe the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary has the potential to be a seminal galvanizing moment in America's history of dealing with gun violence; 100,000 Americans are shot every year — 30,000 of them fatally," Lowy says. "What can we do to save the most lives?"

In answer to the advocates of armed security in schools, Lowy points to the Brady Center's namesake, James Brady. Brady was standing in one of the most protected places on the planet when he was shot in the head and nearly killed: next to President Ronald Reagan, both of them surrounded by the U.S. Secret Service — the best security money can't buy.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From Michigan to Texas now, where one school has decided to arm some of its staff.

Here's NPR's Wade Goodwyn.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: School Superintendent David Thweatt, of the small town of Harrold, northwest of Fort Worth, decided it was time to arm his staff in 2006. In Harrold, there's only one school, kindergarten through 12, 103 students.

Before 2006, there had already been enough carnage that Thweatt had installed cameras and magnetic locks that could be thrown at the first sign of trouble. But then came the shooting at an Amish schoolhouse in October of 2006. Ten girls were shot, ages 6 through 13.

DAVID THWEATT: And that concerned us because that was the milk delivery man. We would have let a milk delivery man into our school. We would have allowed him to come in. Then we would have had an active shooter.

GOODWYN: Then, six months later, Virginia Tech shot, 49 shot, 32 dead.

THWEATT: Basically, our plan was Virginia Tech. You lock the doors, secure it. And then get the kids under the desk or get them out of the way of possible stray bullets. But that's exactly what everyone at Virginia Tech did.

GOODWYN: So, Thweatt decided to arm several of his school staff. The tiny town of Harrold is 20 minutes away from the nearest law enforcement responders, and that made everyone feel even more vulnerable. The superintendent won't say how many school staff are armed, so a potential shooter won't know. They've received extensive weapons training and their guns are loaded with special polymer bullets that fracture into hundreds of relatively harmless pieces if the bullet misses its target.

So now, when there's a nightmarish massacre of children at some distant school, Thweatt says in Harrold, parents don't dread their children could be next.

THWEATT: On Friday, there was an outpouring of grief from my parents, and an outpouring of gratefulness that we've had the policy in place to protect our children.

GOODWYN: From the time of the first 911 call from inside of Sandy Hook Elementary reporting shots fired, to the panicked caller reporting the gunfire had stopped, was about 4 minutes. Advocates of armed school security say there's another reason to arm the schools.

TIM FITCH: Why do you think this guy in Connecticut attacked a school instead of a police station?

GOODWYN: St. Louis County police chief Tim Fitch in Missouri says mass shooters target schools because they are unprotected. Cafeterias, waiting rooms, playgrounds, church sanctuaries, movie theatres and classrooms, Fitch says they're treasure to cowards who want to murder as many as possible as quickly as possible, without facing armed resistance.

FITCH: What I'm saying is we need to give our kids and our schools a fighting chance. And the only way I think to do that until the police arrive on the scene is to have either a police officer assigned to that school or armed security. And Plan B is if you can't do that, can't afford that, you should consider allowing school personnel with proper training to be able to have a firearm at the school.

JONATHAN LOWY: Most Americans reject the idea that the answer to gun violence is to shoot our way out of every situation.

GOODWYN: Jonathan Lowy is the director of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence Legal Action Project. Lowy says the discussion about arming schools is a distraction. Lowy says, in this country, 40 percent of gun sales have no background check done whatsoever.

LOWY: I really believe that the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary has the potential to be a seminal galvanizing moment in America's history of dealing with gun violence. A hundred thousand Americans are shot every year, 30,000 of them fatally. What can we do to save the most lives?

GOODWYN: In answer to the advocates of armed security in schools, Lowy points to the Brady Center's namesake, James Brady. Brady was standing in one of the most protected places on the planet Earth when he was shot in the head and nearly killed - standing next to President Ronald Reagan, both of them surrounded by the best security, the U.S. Secret Service.

Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.