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Passive policies put our children at risk

My View: Let's train a troop of campus reponders to save lives in a crisis


We continue to mourn with the families of 20 children and six adults killed last month in Sandy Hook Elementary School. At the same time, I am frustrated over our failure in America to protect our school children and teachers from future attacks.

President Obama rightfully told the grieving families in Connecticut, “Surely we can do better....” and, “We are not doing enough and we will have to change.” The question is what kind of change will make our K-12 schools safer for our children and educators when the next mass murderer forces his way into another of our schools.

This is a serious issue, and I am looking for realistic alternatives for our school district administrators to consider before a copy-cat massacre occurs here in Oregon. Please do not think me insensitive to the grief being felt in Newtown, Conn., and around America. This discussion results from the Sandy Hook tragedy, and if a change in school policy results that saves even one life during the next inevitable school-killing rampage, then the lives lost in Newtown will not have been lost in vain.

To focus our consideration on school safety, the debate over banning weapons will be addressed another day. There are already 250 million firearms in circulation, and assault weapons were already banned in Connecticut before the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary.

By sad coincidence, a madman in China also entered an elementary school recently and used a knife to stab 22 children.

In other words, instead of responding to the latest mass murder with calls for more gun-control, the real issue should be ensuring the protection of our children and educators from armed psychopaths. When a killer begins his rampage, the only armed person in the school for at least five minutes after the sound of the first gunshot is the mass murderer.

Stopping the rampage

Training in classroom lock-down techniques is valuable but passive. Classroom lock-down procedures alone fail to protect the children and adults who continue to be murdered before the police arrive. A police officer in every school is not the answer; a police officer would be the first target of a shooter, and the cost would be prohibitive for most school districts.

Lives would be saved by stopping the shooter. Seconds count when the police are five minutes away.

To start the discussion, here is a simple, inexpensive way to enable immediate response after the first gunshot in a school is fired: establish a program of campus responders.

Campus responders could be two or three responsible adult volunteers in every school (administrators, staff members, teachers or members of the community such as retired law enforcement or military personnel) who are enlisted and encouraged to obtain additional training and regular practice in the use of firearms. Each campus responder would have a firearm concealed on their person or locked and concealed in a secure metal gun box bolted in their desks.

School district employees with prior military or law enforcement experience would be the initial candidates for this voluntary assignment. No one outside of school and district administration would know the identity of these volunteers.

In short, having armed and trained personnel in every school would enable immediate response with lethal force if and when the lives of our children and teachers were endangered by a mass murderer.

If this procedure had been implemented, the number of students and educators killed in every school massacre from Columbine to Virginia Tech to Sandy Hook might have been greatly reduced (the same would be true if implemented by shopkeepers and mall personnel such as those at Clackamas Town Center).

In Texas, the Harrold School District’s “Guardian Plan” already has implemented such a policy. Under present Oregon Firearm Law, school districts already have the authority to do likewise. In Israel and Thailand, armed school personnel save the lives of their children. In America, the slaughter of our school children continues.

To refocus this important debate, let’s consider the following: First, mass murderers may be armed with guns, knives, explosives and, as we saw last year in China, even hammers; second, from the 1998 killings in Oregon’s own Thurston High School to the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, our students and educators have continued to be slaughtered in our public schools; third, there is less than a one in a million chance that a mass shooting will occur in a school on any given day; fourth, police response times are at least five minutes; and fifth, the costs are prohibitive and counter-productive to a quality education to turn our schools into educational prisons with high fences, bullet proof doors and continual police patrols.

Nevertheless, as the Sandy Hook tragedy reminds us all, school campus massacres continue to occur, and our passive policies have failed to adequately limit the number of innocent victims once the rampage begins.

Dennis Richardson, a Central Point Republican, has served District 4 in the state House of Representatives since 2003.