In the wake of the unthinkable tragedy in Newtown, Conn., protecting our kids against gun violence has become the nation's number one priority.
On Wednesday, President Barack Obama launched an interagency task force, headed by Vice President Joe Biden, to create reforms to stop the “gun violence epidemic” in the United States.
California Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer is proposing legislation that would allow governors to access federal funds and utilize National Guard troops in an effort to increase school security.
But while Washington gears up to debate gun control, states and local governments aren’t wasting any time after the horrors at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
In Tennessee, for example, Republican state Sen. Frank Niceley will introduce legislation in January that would require every school to have an armed staff member. These staffers may not necessarily be teachers, but rather “resource officers” that most Tennessee schools already staff.
Minnesota Republican state Rep. Tony Cornish has gone a step further. He told Minnesota media, “Even an armed security or an armed cop doesn’t do a lot of good if they get by him or her. Then they’ve got all these classrooms that they can go to. So, I think the best defense is a teacher.”
Legislators in Oklahoma, Nevada, and Virginia are on the same page as Cornish. They are even suggesting that custodial workers be armed.
Steve Lee, security expert and the managing director of Steve Lee & Associates, a global intelligence firm that works closely with both the private and public sectors, says that teachers must be prepared for the world they now live in.
“There is merit in providing at least a modicum of ‘active shooter’ and other security-related training for teachers so that in a lethal event they are not inventing an ad hoc incident response,” Lee says.
He says that teachers in the 21st century should be trained in the “use of lethal force and not only authorized, but also duty bound to protect those in their charge.”
Since last week, the sale of backpacks lined with “carbon nanotube armor” has increased, according to a story in Mother Jones. Such backpacks can cost upwards of $300. Parents are also considering making their children wear bullet-proof body armor.
Such extreme measures may not solve the root problem. The solution, some experts say, is much simpler.
“I understand where people are coming from, especially after the Sandy Hook tragedy, but we have to be realistic,” says Dr. Kathy Seifert, a psychologist, youth violence and family trauma expert. “Teachers and students need protection, but it’s a scary idea to think of all school teachers having guns while working.”
She agrees that it is wise to have a police presence in all schools, but that schools also must offer mental health services to catch “red flags” and early warning signs of violent behavior. Then, the schools should provide treatment to at-risk individuals to prevent violence.
Seifert says this may seem costly, but it saves money in the long run.
“But truthfully, you either pay up front by offering prevention services, or you pay later on with the cost of jail, court and legal expenses, violence, and sometimes the ultimate cost: the loss of innocent human life,” she says. “As a country, we must get smarter about how we allocate our time and budgets. By focusing on violence prevention, we can create a better, safer, and happier environment for everyone.”
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Suzi Parker is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist whose work frequently appears in The Washington Post and The Christian Science Monitor. She is the author of two books. @SuziParker | TakePart.com