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Our Opinion: Make students' safety our top priority

The shocking and sickening magnitude of the school shooting rampage in Connecticut last week will understandably make it hard for people here in Oregon to separate reasonable responses from purely emotional ones.

As our communities join the rest of the nation in mourning the horrible loss of 20 children — as well as the adults who tried to protect them — we also are seeing local school officials, state legislators and others come forward with ideas for keeping our children safer. The difficulty will come in evaluating which of these ideas can be effective — when weighed against all available evidence — in discouraging or preventing these types of attacks.

Oregon already was reeling from the shootings that occurred at Clackamas Town Center last week. As a result, a localized debate over control of assault weapons already was emerging. Now, the shootings in Newtown, Conn., once again raise the additional element of school security.

We believe Oregon and the nation can do a better job of protecting children. It’s obvious that the Newtown shootings have dramatically altered the national gun debate. Based even on statements from gun-rights supporters in the past few days, we would expect to see a consensus form around a few narrowly focused gun-control measures: expanded background checks for gun purchases, plus a ban on selling assault rifles and restrictions on the capacity of gun magazines.

These would seem to be commonsense measures that a majority of people could support without fear that rights are being stripped away.

But it would be a mistake to think that greater regulation of guns would be a comprehensive solution in itself. According to statistics compiled by the Congressional Research Service, there were 310 million guns in the United States as of 2009. Even a program that entails buying back the most destructive of these guns would make only a small dent in the firepower that’s readily available.

And that brings us to the need to increase the safety of Oregon’s public places — and particularly the schools. Portland-area school districts have well-developed programs and protocols intended to protect children from intruders. These include lock-down procedures, emergency drills and requirements that visitors check in at the front desks of schools.

However, our observation is that most schools — like the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut — are soft targets for people who are determined to commit murder. The discussion in Oregon must include a serious look at how the state can make all school buildings more difficult to enter and penetrate.

Such ideas for making schools safer have run the gamut. They include the implausible notion that we should arm school principals, secretaries and teachers with guns, as well as the more-serious idea of stationing a greater number of uniformed school resource officers in school buildings.

As the emotions of anger and sadness rightly overflow in the wake of the Newtown shootings, a wide variety of proposals will inevitably surface. These ideas, however, should be viewed not through a political prism, but should be studied for their efficacy. If practical solutions are possible, they should be implemented.

Along the way, this state’s school districts and citizens must be willing to bear the cost and inconvenience of added security. There is, after all, no higher priority than keeping innocent children safe from the mayhem and tragedy that descended on Newtown, Conn., last Friday.



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