Summit speaker says arming educators up to individual counties
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There's no question in Lt. Col. Dave Grossman's mind that students are safer in a school when someone armed with a gun and trained in its use is on the premises.
Whether that person is a teacher is a matter of discussion.
"First and foremost, the desire would be to have a cop. Second would be to have a well-trained, properly armed, designated guard. And then you kind of wander into that grey area that's become greatly controversial about arming educators," Grossman said.
Grossman, a retired U.S. Army Ranger and author of "On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society," was the featured speaker Wednesday at a daylong summit on school safety coordinated by U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin.
About 400 educators, law enforcement personnel and others packed the Culture Center Wednesday morning to hear Grossman speak.
The subject of armed personnel came up as Grossman discussed ways to prevent and react to acts of violence in schools.
The three easiest ways to make sure students are safer is to lock exterior and interior school doors and make sure teachers can secure classrooms against an attack, Grossman said. Having an armed, trained person in schools can both prevent people from committing acts of violence and mitigate the results of any attack, he said.
Grossman doesn't think anyone would mind devoting resources to placement of police officers in schools. It should be up to individual school systems to decide whether to let teachers carry guns, he said.
Texas and Utah allow teachers to carry guns, Grossman said, and educators in those states are confident their policies are a success, though trained police officers or armed guard are preferable.
Grossman thinks even one or two armed teachers might have helped prevent past tragedies.
"Who can deny that if there had been an armed educator in Sandy Hook, it might have been different? It might not, that's an honest answer," Grossman said.
"But it's a no-brainer that it could have been different. But whether or not it's the right thing to do or whether or not it's dynamic for your community or your community values is a different matter."
Education officials from across the state have expressed skepticism about arming teachers. State Superintendent Jim Phares has said he wasn't sure about an NRA proposal to place an armed guard in every school.
On Wednesday Phares said he agreed with Grossman about the potential negative impacts of video games on children.
Violent media could affect child behavior, said Kanawha County Schools Superintendent Ron Duerring. But he thinks other factors could play a role in a student's decision-making process.
He didn't want to commit to Grossman's suggestion of someone being armed in every school.
"He certainly makes you think about that a little bit more," Duerring said. "The first reaction from probably people in general is that we shouldn't do that. But as he pointed out, officers in a school who are not armed when someone comes, what can they do? Show a badge?"
Luella Dancy, a math teacher for a little more than two years at Clay County High School, said her school doesn't have an armed officer.
After hearing Grossman speak, she said she thought she would feel safer if there were someone armed at her school. Attacks can happen anywhere, she said, and she thinks the state's problems with drug abuse could lead to a need for armed protection at schools.
That's the type of protection Monongalia County Deputy Allen Ayersman said he provides as the prevention resource officer at Clay-Battelle High School in Blacksville.
He purchased one of Grossman's books on tape and thought the speaker was correct on the subject of protection offered by officers in schools.
"The response time from Morgantown where I'm based to the school where I work at is probably 20 to 30 minutes. So I'm pretty much all they have if something were to happen at the high school."
Cpl. Stacy Loftis, a prevention resource officer at Stonewall Jackson Middle School on Charleston's West Side, recently told the Daily Mail he would be hesitant to arm teachers.
He said he would be concerned about the number of guns in a school and about the training of those people with all aspects of firearm use. Teachers and students have told him they feel safe with him at the school.
There are about 60 prevention resource officers throughout the state, Goodwin pointed out after Grossman's speech. He did not want to say whether teachers should be armed.
"The point is not whether I agree. The point is whether the folks on the front lines can agree and reach consensus - the law enforcement officers, the teachers, the school personnel and administrators, whether they can agree on the causes and the appropriate intervention strategies to prevent these crimes from occurring," Goodwin said.
He said Grossman's speech was just part of a greater discussion about how to make schools safer.
Goodwin's office plans to issue a report including information from Grossman, panels scheduled for later in the day and information submitted by people unable to attend the event.