School Safety: Common Sense is the Answer

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School Safety: Common Sense is the Answer

Sheriff Terry Maketa

School safety has taken center stage as a topic of national discussion these days. It is actually no surprise, given the recent tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary. Unfortunately, school safety seems to center around, or serve as, justification for the vast number of proposed bills that attack law-abiding citizens and their firearms rights. To many, it's a broad brush approach and a punishment of law-abiding citizens. 

A few nights ago, I was watching a national news show and the commentators were talking about how the Federal government is struggling to address school safety issues. I was quite shocked to hear that. As I sat there listening and watching the discussion, several thoughts immediately crossed my mind. To me, this is a no-brainer and I'm quite taken back that some people are making this a struggle. Let’s look at locations where society has decided to minimize threats and make people safer. Walk into any courthouse around this country, city council meeting rooms, banks, concert venues, sport venues, airports, churches and capitol buildings, to name a few. Ask yourself what are the common themes. Many of us remember the day you could walk into an airport and actually walk with a departing family member to the gate and watch them board their flight without being greeted by armed security guards and a metal detector. Those days are long gone, but the lessons we should reflect on are the changes made in those environments that increase safety. 

Changes were made at locations such as courthouses, local government buildings, hospitals, state capitol buildings, the White House, and the United States Capitol once it was determined threats to safety existed and a risk to the inhabitants was possible. In response to that potential threat, a common sense approach was implemented and armed security, such as private security guards, state troopers, local police, sheriff's deputies or federal agents were tasked with protecting the activities and individuals within those buildings. The real common denominator among these buildings is they all have moved in the direction of incorporating some type of armed security, or in many cases, a physical design change. When individuals suggest the concept of putting law enforcement or trained security personnel in our elementary and middle schools, I hear people respond with emotionally based comments such as, “we do not need more guns in our schools,” or “we don't want our children exposed to guns.” I'm confused by this response. One cannot help but ask why all of the sudden are we creating a bias against the concept of responsible, armed, and trained representatives in and around our schools to protect those institutions and more importantly the teachers and children. 

Following the Columbine High School shooting, we witnessed significant changes in the response of law enforcement. They equipped themselves with long rifles and changed their entire response to the active shooter situation. The most significant change is the introduction of full-time armed school resource officers as well as armed school security in most high schools. Yet when it comes to elementary and middle school education (ages 5 – 14), we are so resistant because many fear students may be exposed to firearms. Most ridiculous is the mere suggestion of a hypothetical situation of a student disarming a school employee, security guard, or law enforcement resulting in that student now having the opportunity to kill and follow through with violence, as if the mere presence or sight of a gun ignites a desire to kill. Seriously, people actually believe this ridiculous concept. First of all, when has that ever happened in the State of Colorado? The answer is, never. The fear that students may disarm a teacher or school employee acting as security and go on a killing spree is absolutely absurd. It just doesn’t happen. When you compare the risk of doing nothing, as we are presently doing, against emotionally charged, invalid perceptions, we must ask ourselves if we are really willing to do nothing to minimize risk and keep our children safer. 

Unfortunately, we are jeopardizing the safety of our children because of fear of something that has not happened and most likely never would. It is the most disturbing excuse where the actual probability and risk is zero. It appears we are willing to roll the dice and gamble with our children’s lives over something that is absolutely the least likely to ever happen. In the meantime, we do nothing in light of these perceived scenarios and let more days pass, putting our children at risk. Our legislators need to wake up and realize that violent people kill with items other than a firearm far more often. It is those types of people we need to equally protect our children from. To stop those violent people, we need good people to stand up and be prepared and trained to engage them with force. 

It’s too bad the school safety debate hasn’t progressed when it comes to elementary and middle school-aged students. Unfortunately, we aren’t focused on how we get good people hired, background checked, trained and into our school systems without bankrupting our school districts or diverting money from the education of our youth. Several weeks ago, common sense, problem solving legislators introduced a bill at the Colorado legislature that would have allowed school districts and boards, at the local level, to make decisions concerning their needs for school safety. It would have allowed individual school staff to be armed at the discretion of the local school board. The bill (SB 13-009) detailed parameters and expectations for policies designed to maximize student safety. Sadly enough, that bill was postponed indefinitely by the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party line vote with the majority party (Dems) voting against it. It is as if the extreme liberals preferred to risk the lives of our children to further support their attack on gun rights. They adopt policies to grant early releases of convicted violent criminals and at the same time inhibit citizens’ rights to self protection. It just doesn’t make sense. 

School boards and school administrators are educated people who have dedicated their lives to our children’s futures. Our legislators decided they know better for each community and chose to do absolutely nothing but expand the east coast liberal’s agenda and propose gun bills that will not prevent any future school shootings. Not one of their gun bills would have prevented any of the recent mass shootings. I believe that is an injustice. This bill (SB 13-009) should have served as a foundation to begin these discussions and ultimately arrive at real life, affordable measures to make our schools, and more importantly, our children much safer. No one knows their schools better than that particular school district, its leadership and the community it serves. Yet those in the legislature have ignored the common sense practices that they use to protect their own personal safety, such as armed security at the State Capitol. Keep in mind; it is those armed security members they run to when THEY feel threatened. 

It is so ironic that these legislators find it acceptable to have armed security at every courthouse, every airport, the State Capitol, the entrance to numerous other government buildings, public events and other public venues, yet they view the safety of our children as a matter for another day! Our majority leadership at the legislature is too busy pushing meaningless, self serving “feel good” laws, while ignoring common sense measures that increase student safety. They do not take the safety of our children seriously and only exploit tragic events for their own greed and agenda. I would challenge them to cut the puppet strings and come up with common sense solutions, like they did for the security at the State Capitol building. 

I have solutions! Make minor design changes to our schools and that alone would enhance the safety of our children. Additionally, at the rate of $31,000 per year, per school, I could hire a qualified individual, train that individual in self-protection and tactics and provide a response to confront a crazed gunman. I would use volunteers to supplement these positions. If the legislature showed some courage and passed a bill like SB13-009, I would partner with school administrators to train and screen school staff and deputize them, minimizing risk to the school district. We could develop the safest schools in the Country, yet there are still those people who will stand up and scream they don't want guns in their schools. They will leave common sense out of the argument and ignore evidence-based data and respond emotionally without offering viable options. Of course these are the same people screaming while they hide behind the protection of armed security. Let’s not leave out the excuse they don’t want children exposed to guns, but those same children go home and play video games that are full of violence, guns, and other weapons of mass destruction without a sense of true consequence. They will not touch that factoid. Unfortunately, those holding the majority in our legislature prefer to hold the line with the typical “I know better” rhetoric and do nothing. Based on the actions I have witnessed so far, I would allege they do not want to address this problem; it may cheat them out of a crisis they can exploit and use to further their agenda. 

We should engage our communities and increase volunteerism by recruiting those that are willing to accept the training and commit the time to defend our schools much like neighborhood watch does in communities. I assure you the President’s children don’t go to the mall, let alone school, without armed security at the expense of the tax payer. Our first priority should be our children, since they do not have the means to protect themselves. We should demand our liberal legislators stop holding them as helpless sheep. We need to assume the protection role and create enabling laws, not ram-rod restrictive laws. We should be engaging those school staff members who are willing to accept the responsibility of school safety. The obstacles blocking us in that endeavor are the self-serving politicians and naysayers. They would rather continue to do things as they have always done, each day gambling with the safety of our children. They do so while sitting at the safety of their desk with security at the door of their building. Then they create feeble, unrealistic worse-case scenarios that have never occurred as their justification to do nothing. Even our own Governor lacks the leadership to deviate from the “do nothing” attitude as he signs gun bills he admits will make no difference in our schools and even admits some are unenforceable. The hypothetical excuse of elementary and middle school-aged students disarming adults is just as weak and completely unrealistic. If we don't want to arm teachers and other school employees, then let's incorporate armed security and other environmental design changes to render our schools safer. Many of our schools have individuals who possess firearms training, necessary background checks, and a willingness to protect children. 

History is rich with approaches that work and examples of low cost solutions. Let’s look at the New Life Church shooting in 2007. The innocent victims that died at the hands of that shooter were all outside the church. As that gunman entered the church that Sunday, after killing two in the parking lot, he was immediately confronted by an armed citizen, acting in the capacity of church security. The media and legislators never use that incident as an example of a response which saved lives. Neither the media nor the extreme liberal House and Senate leadership tout the success of that shooting because dozens of people did not die. The reason dozens were not killed is because an armed citizen confronted the shooter and that story does not fit their agenda. A citizen with the passion to serve her fellow parishioners confronted and wounded the gunman, foiling his plan. As a result, the gunman turned the firearm on himself, taking his own life. Again, we never hear of this incident because it doesn’t fit their self serving agenda. That scenario, in and of itself, validates that a trained individual with a firearm used responsibly can save lives. I would further suggest that armed security guards or law enforcement in the schools would create a tremendous deterrent to attacks against our children. Individuals wishing to take lives are not going to go somewhere they believe the success of their so-called “mission” is at risk of failure. 

There are actions we can immediately take to protect our children. We can make our schools much safer, but all of this procrastination and, playing partisan politics, is leaving the known risks untouched. The Colorado legislature had the opportunity to implement a serious, cost-free school safety measure (SB 13-009) and they elected to kick it to the curb. They should have applied the same commonsense they applied to other buildings identified as threatened. Attacking the rights of law-abiding citizens who would certainly put their lives on the line to protect these children is not the right decision. Urge those legislators who stand in the way of real life progress to step aside and let us protect our schools and the children in them. Let’s apply common sense for the safety of our future.