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Sun., Aug. 18, 2013

Editorial: Editorial: Guns come with plenty of early warning

When middle and high school students in Spokane return from winter break in January, they’ll notice one change on campuses: The school resource officers will be armed with pistols. How Spokane Public Schools introduces this and other new security measures to parents and students will be an important part of their implementation.

While it’s certainly sad that the school safety issue has come to this, the limited introduction of weapons is defensible as one piece of a larger strategy. As the massacre of students in Newtown, Conn., showed, schools are vulnerable to attack from deranged people bent on destruction.

However, it’s also important to get the word out so that January’s change isn’t a surprise. Rumors spread fast in a campus environment, so Spokane Public Schools is working on a communications plan to ensure that the introduction of weapons isn’t a disruption.

First, the public needs to know that school resource officers are commissioned peace officers, so they have law enforcement training. From now until January, that training will include the use firearms. The first target of any potential school intruder would be one of these officers, so arming and training them allows for self-defense, too.

Much might be made of the fact that SPS is one of the few districts in the state to arms its employees, but this is largely a technical distinction. Such officers exist in other districts; it’s just that they’re attached to law enforcement agencies and aren’t school employees.

Second, the public should know that the guns aren’t being brought on campus in response to a specific threat. Spokane schools are relatively safe and have never been the scene of mass violence.

Third, other measures are being taken, including adding internal school locks and increasing patrols around schools. Plus, two more officers are being hired so that each middle school and high school has at least one.

Finally, these resource officers are already an accepted part of the school environment. Students are used to seeing them. They’re part of the campus culture. Many students treat them as confidants and advisers and are relieved to have them around.

The introduction of weapons does not mean schools will become a police state. Rather, it’s a measured response to the latest in a series of mass shootings. It’s certainly preferable to more Draconian suggestions, such as metal detectors at entrances, armed teachers or security fencing around campuses.

One district in Eastern Idaho has introduced gun lockers to schools, where resource officers can access higher-powered weaponry to better fire down the length of long hallways. No thanks.

The possibility of mass violence can never be eliminated. Attempting to prevent all scenarios is impossible. But arming trained officers should increase safety, but should be done without jeopardizing officer relations with students or school ties to the community.

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