School officials cast doubts on NRA's armed guard proposal
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Education leaders in Kanawha and Putnam counties are questioning the feasibility and effectiveness of placing an armed guard in every school.
The National Rifle Association made the suggestion Friday in its first official statement since 26 people were killed in a shooting at a Connecticut elementary school. Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president for the NRA, spoke at length Friday, calling on Congress "to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every school."
Arguing that an armed officer in every school could prevent carnage, he said this should be done immediately.
"The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," he said.
Pete Thaw, president of the Kanawha County board of education, isn't so sure.
He said it's questionable that anyone could have stopped Adam Lanza - who shot his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School with an assault rifle Dec. 15 - from murdering 20 students and six adults.
"Frankly, you know, we've got to accept one thing: There is no way that that guy or any guy so demented can be stopped," Thaw said "We can't build the walls high enough, the glass thick enough, (or have) enough policemen armed to stop him."
He said he understands why some people might think armed officers in every school could help. Considering the amount of federal aid has decreased for Kanawha County and the rest of the state in recent years though, Thaw thinks the idea wouldn't be feasible.
Chuck Hatfield, superintendent of Putnam County Schools, agreed. There are three resource officers that work in Putnam County's four high schools, and Hatfield said they are useful. They're in the schools through an arrangement with several different law enforcement agencies, but there's no way Putnam County could afford anymore, Hatfield said.
"To place a police officer in each of our schools, it would probably cost us a million and a half (dollars) a year to do that," Hatfield said Friday in phone interview. "Obviously we don't have that kind of money in our budget right now."
What if the federal government did have the money?
Still probably not a great idea, said Jim Phares, outgoing Randolph County superintendent and soon-to-be state superintendent. From the perspective of a county superintendent, he said it's a step closer to making schools more like prisons.
Hatfield and Thaw each used the same words to describe their feelings on the matter.
"I just don't think we can turn our schools into an armed camp with razor wire and bullet-proof glass and armed guards inside," Thaw said. "I just don't think it'll work."
Phares said the problem is more complicated that just having more or less guns in schools. He admits that he's asked himself recently, "how many guns do you need?" and he thinks gun control could be part of the solution. But he said there are also problems with mental health and violence in culture that make preventing such atrocities more challenging.
LaPierre trumpeted those other factors in his speech Friday. He blamed a media culture that promotes violence, video games and movies that glorify killing and a lack of a list of mentally ill people.
He also said the NRA is ready to develop a "model National School Shield Emergency Response Program" for every school in the nation. It'll include armed guards in every school, but also advice on designing safe buildings and emergency procedures, LaPierre said.
"If we truly cherish our kids. . .we must give them the greatest level of protection possible and the security that is only available with a properly trained, armed good guy," LaPierre said.
Counties need to decide whether they want more armed guards, said Liza Cordeiro, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education. Right now the department needs more information - such as who would pay for the guards or whether they're effective - before it can comment, she said.
No person at the department is officially tasked with school safety alone. However, Cordeiro said Mike Pickens and the staff in the Office of Facilities helps counties address school safety. They help counties create safety plans, as well as a Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan for every school.
By August of 2013 each county will be required to have an "amped up plan" for safety online and accessible only to law enforcement officials, Cordeiro said. She did not elaborate on the plan, but said the department might have conversations on looking at creating a position devoted to safety.
President Barack Obama has said he plans to use the full power of his office to pursue gun control measures. Arne Duncan, secretary of education, echoed those statements Friday during a speech at a Washington elementary school.
During that speech he said members of the NRA support many of the president's ideas. He mentioned Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., by name as an example.
"My friend, Joe Manchin, the senator from West Virginia, summed up the new consensus well. He is a lifelong hunter and a lifetime member of the NRA," he said, according to a transcript of his speech.
"He said he doesn't 'know anyone in the sporting and hunting arena who goes out with an assault rifle. (He) doesn't know anyone who needs 30 rounds in the clip to go hunting,' " Duncan continued.
Manchin made those comments Monday during an interview on national television. He seemed to reiterate those statements in other interviews the same day. In a radio interview Wednesday though, he said he's always been a staunch advocate for guns rights and never meant to suggest banning assault weapons.
"I'm not supporting a ban on anything; I'm supporting a conversation on everything," Manchin said Wednesday during his interview with Hoppy Kercheval, popular West Virginia talk show host.
Gun control advocates and opponents alike questioned where Manchin stood following his comments.
In an opinion piece published Friday evening on the Washington Post's website, Manchin said the problem is multifaceted. He mentioned "military-style assault weapons," but also blamed video games and lack of treatment for the mentally ill.
He said he was in favor of discussing increased security in schools, as suggested by the NRA, but that isn't enough, adding the NRA has been unfairly vilified in connection to the shooting at Sandy Hook.
Manchin said in the editorial he would not support "one-track legislation that focuses exclusively on guns" but rather take a comprehensive approach to the issue.
Instead, he opted for a broad solution: the creation of a "national commission on violence." He said the group could "lead the national conversation," get to the root causes of the problem and issue a report "based on facts, not emotions or preconceived notions of what it takes to end mass violence in America."
In the past decade, schools across West Virginia have installed new locking systems, security cameras and other safety measures, Cordeiro said. Thaw and Hatfield both said that they think students are generally safe at schools.
There's no plan that's fool proof though, Hatfield said.