Following the countrywide debate on U.S. gun violence and mass shootings that was sparked after an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, saw a shooting leaving more than 20 dead, schools nationwide are announcing their own safety efforts. While some schools have implemented safety protocols including the use of clear or mesh backpacks in schools, others have taken it a step further, announcing the availability of guns for officers to use when needed.
A North Carolina county school, with plans to reopen this month, shared that new security measures will include stocking AR-15 rifles for school resource officers to use in the event of an active shooter. According to the Associated Press, school officials and Madison County Sheriff Buddy Harwood have placed at least one semiautomatic rifle in each of the county’s six schools. Each of the guns will allegedly be locked inside a safe only to be opened in case of such an incident.
In addition to holding the guns, Harwood said the safes will also hold extra magazines with ammunition and breaching tools for barricaded doors.
“We’ll have those tools to be able to breach that door if needed. I do not want to have to run back out to the car to grab an AR, because that’s time lost. Hopefully we’ll never need it, but I want my guys to be as prepared as prepared can be,” he said, according to the Associated Press.
The school district is collaborating with the sheriff’s office to enhance security after the Uvalde shooting revealed systemic failures and “egregiously poor decision-making.”
The idea to have guns available for those on duty and responding to incidents of an active shooter comes from recent backlash on how Uvalde police handled the shooting at Robb Elementary School.
“Those officers were in that building for so long, and that suspect was able to infiltrate that building and injure and kill so many kids,” Harwood told the Asheville Citizen Times, referring to the Uvalde shooting. “I just want to make sure my deputies are prepared in the event that happens.”
Several advocates have noted the issue with having guns available in school buildings, even if the intent is to only have them be in use in case of emergencies. Many have rightfully brought up the point of not only children but teachers potentially accessing not only the weapons but ammunition. Even if the guns are in a secure undisclosed location, the curiosity of where they are can intrigue many. Safes have not always succeeded in stopping shooters from going ahead with their planned attacks in the past.
“What’s going to happen is we’re going to have accidents with these guns,” Dorothy Espelage, a UNC Chapel Hill professor in the School of Education, told WLOS-TV. “Just the presence of an SRO increases violence in the schools. There’s more arrests of kids. Why is it that they have to have these AR-15s? It doesn’t make any sense.”
But of course, instead of thinking of the possible dangers that could arise from the guns being “safely” placed in school buildings, those in support of the safety measure believe it is the only viable response.
“I hate that we’ve come to a place in our nation where I’ve got to put a safe in our schools, and lock that safe up for my deputies to be able to acquire an AR-15. But, we can shut it off and say it won’t happen in Madison County, but we never know,” Harwood said.
Harwood continued: “I want the parents of Madison County to know we’re going to take every measure necessary to ensure our kids are safe in this school system. If my parents, as a whole, want me to stand at that door with that AR strapped around that officer’s neck, then I’m going to do whatever my parents want as a whole to keep our kids safe.”
He added that all the rifles and accessories were bought using money donated by residents in Madison County. The schools where the safes will be located are Brush Creek Elementary, Hot Springs Elementary, Mars Hill Elementary, Madison Middle, Madison High, and Madison Early College High.
Per a House investigation unveiled last month, gun makers have taken in more than $1 billion from selling AR-15-style guns over the past decade. Yet gun makers claim that guns like AR-15-style rifles are only responsible for a small portion of gun homicides.
North Carolina school districts are not the only ones to partner with law enforcement and call for more protection. According to The Independent, school districts nationwide have been calling for more, better-armed police on campuses following Uvalde, even though research suggests armed officers do next to nothing to stop school shootings and often single out students of color for violence and arrest.
Several schools, especially in GOP-dominant states, have implemented or suggested protocols including not only clear backpacks but bulletproof shelters and spaces as opposed to discussing the root problem of gun violence and the lack of accountable legislation.
“That’s one of the maybe disappointing takeaways and very important takeaways, given that that’s some of the justification and reason many schools are using police,” Professor F. Chris Curran, director of the Education Policy Research Center at the University of Florida, told The Independent. “In some ways, it resonates with what we know anecdotally. You can look at Parkland right here in Florida. They had an SRO in the school and it didn’t deter and didn’t effectively stop the perpetrator from taking a lot of lives.”
According to the Madison County Schools website, schools are scheduled to reopen Aug. 22.
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