Steve Anderson, superintendent of the Lake Hamilton School District, slid what looked like a business card across the table. It’s actually a commissioned security officer license. He also carries a badge and, on five occasions during the last 12 years, a gun on campus.
The Lake Hamilton school campuses are far enough from local law enforcement that a madman could kill a lot of people before help could arrive. So, as part of a response plan created by the previous superintendent, the school is licensed as a private security firm. A handful of staff members, like Anderson, have commissioned security officer licenses and access to locked up guns and body armor.
Anderson has held his license for 12 years. Five times he has strapped on a gun – twice after last year’s Sandy Hook Elementary shootings to calm a nervous staff, twice when a manhunt was occurring in his area, and once when a parent called the school suspecting a child had stolen a handgun and taken it on campus.
He knows how this might look to outsiders. "I’m not a Rambo. I’m not a John Wayne-type. I’m a schoolteacher," he said. "I’m not a law enforcement officer. I’m not a Navy SEAL. But I’m going to take care of my kids."
Anderson and three other superintendents were in Little Rock on Wednesday to attend a press conference by Asa Hutchinson, director of the National Rifle Association’s National School Shield initiative and candidate for Arkansas governor in 2014.
The National School Shield is the NRA’s response to the Sandy Hook shootings. Hutchinson released a preliminary report recommending, as one option, providing 40 to 60 hours of security training to school staff members, especially in schools that cannot hire sufficient professional guards. That way, in an emergency, at least someone is somewhat prepared to shoot a shooter. Hutchinson emphasized that staff members other than teachers should undergo the training.
A group of about 15 superintendents met with Hutchinson a couple of months ago to provide their input on the issue. That meeting, along with others held across the country, helped squelch an idea to let armed volunteers protect campuses. Volunteers can be inconsistent and hard to manage, and superintendents didn’t want them packing heat on campus.
For school superintendents, security is now a constant concern. Nancy Anderson with the Cutter Morning Star district, who also attended the press conference, plans to get her own license. Darin Beckwith with the Fountain Lake School District often imagines how he would respond to a school violence scenario. Recently, a real estate agent told a client they could park a Ryder truck next to the campus overnight but neglected to tell the school. A Ryder truck is what Timothy McVeigh used to carry the explosives in the Oklahoma City bombing. Beckwith and his staff spent two hours trying to figure out what was going on.
Steve Anderson emphasizes that Lake Hamilton’s approach isn’t for everyone. Most districts probably will find other ways of beefing up their security besides arming administrators. Every district has a different culture and different needs. On a personal level, people have varying experiences with guns and differing levels of trust in their administrators.
There also are practical concerns. Arming school staff members and bringing guns on campus likely would add to schools’ liability and affect their insurance. And of course, no training, no matter how intense, can transform three or four school administrators into a SWAT team.
On the other hand, what are they supposed to do in the unlikely event that someone is walking around the campus shooting at their students as fast as he can pull the trigger? Hide? Throw a stapler at him?
So what do you think? Is arming administrators one of the answers for protecting schools from madmen or mad kids?
It’s a shame we’ve got to ask the question.
Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas. His blog — Independent Arkansas — is linked at arkansasnews.com. His e-mail address is email@example.com