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McFeely: Local police chiefs split on arming teachers

Mike McFeely, Oct. 17, 2015Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

If you thought the fact a longtime, highly-trained law enforcement officer—for whatever reason—did not confront the Florida school shooter would be enough to quiet the we-must-arm-teachers chorus, you would be very wrong. President Donald Trump quadrupled down on the idea Friday, Feb. 23, saying a teacher with a gun would have "shot the hell" out of the killer.

There is no evidence of this, of course. In fact, the National Association of School Resource Officers—cops who work in schools—came out last week against arming teachers, listing six specific reasons why. Among them: "Anyone who hasn't received the extensive training provided to law enforcement officers will likely be mentally unprepared to take a life, especially the life of a student assailant."

This won't be enough to dissuade the Rambo-wannabes from wanting science teachers to pack heat. But we figured we'd throw it out there, since a lot of those same people insist we support law enforcement in every circumstance. Probably not in this one, though.

Opinions from three local police chiefs are a little more varied and nuanced. Moorhead's David Ebinger is clear where he stands, but Fargo's David Todd and Dilworth's Ty Sharpe are open—if somewhat reluctant—to put guns in teachers' hands in certain scenarios.

Ebinger said he talked with his two school resource officers Friday and they were clear where they stood: No guns for teachers. Ebinger said the officers don't know of any teachers interested in carrying a weapon. Beyond that, he believes it's simply a bad idea.

"The use of a firearm in a crowded, chaotic and dangerous environment still has rules. An officer may have to refrain from firing, even while he is taking fire, because of the danger of striking an innocent person," Ebinger said. "The use of cover, teamwork and communications with other officers, and innocent person awareness, are all required in these incidents and require extensive and ongoing training.

"This is one of the most complex environments imaginable for law enforcement and we train extensively. It is not a situation in which you want to place an amateur, no matter how well-intentioned they may be."

Sharpe doesn't flatly oppose armed teachers, but questions how effective it might be.

"I am not against arming teachers, although I would need to see a training program and ongoing realistic role-playing before I would be fully behind arming them," Sharpe said. "We just saw where a police officer with 20 years of training failed to engage for some reason. I have seen it firsthand with officers. That would be another issue: Would arming teachers even help? But over the last 19 years (since the Columbine shooting), we should have secured our schools with limited access and secured entry and exit points."

Todd split the difference between Ebinger and Sharpe. He's opposed to armed teachers in Fargo because metro schools already have officers in them, but didn't want to speak for rural districts.

"I have an SRO in every high school and middle school and so do West Fargo and Moorhead. They are trained in active shooter response and we do scenario training," Todd said. "All officer squads are equipped with AR-15s, vests and ballistic helmets. We have invested in that type of equipment and training. We've also worked with the school district on intelligence."

Todd said SRO's response time to an active shooter would be about two minutes, so having teachers with guns would not improve that. The Fargo chief made clear his opinion was not a blanket meant to cover all school districts.

"I do not extend my feelings out to other jurisdictions. There may be small towns where law enforcement is 30 minutes away and if they decide a teacher or an administrator in their school with a gun to stop a potential threat is appropriate, I don't think that's for me to decide," Todd said.

Todd also expressed reservations about whether civilians could be properly trained to handle a chaotic active shooter situation.

"You better train and go through the education to know what is and what is not appropriate force and when to use it," he said.

The school resource officer association has the same concern. Among the reasons it opposes armed teachers is this: "Discharging a firearm in a crowded school is an extremely risky action, with consequences that can include the wounding and/or death of innocent victims. Law enforcement officers receive training and practice in evaluating quickly the risks of firing. They hold their fire when the risks to others are too high."

As we saw in Florida, it's not as simple as a good guy with a gun stopping a bad guy with a gun.

Mike McFeely
Mike McFeely is a WDAY (970 AM) radio host and a columnist for The Forum. You can respond to Mike's columns by listening to AM-970 from 8:30-11 a.m. weekdays.
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