Officials question armed school personnel
Congressman Jim Langevin is speaking out against the recommendation to have armed guards in every school across the country.
Langevin released an official statement Tuesday following the release of the National School Shield (NSS) Task Force’s study on school safety, which includes the recommendation of armed guards, officers or staff members in schools.
“Having nearly lost my own life to a gun in what should have been the safest environment, a police locker room with weapons experts, I find it appalling that a report’s recommendations on school safety would center on having more guns around our children,” said Langevin.
The study, which was funded by the National Rifle Association (NRA), also recommends changing legal restrictions to allow staff members to carry firearms on school property, private or public. The NSS Task Force was made up of recognized experts in homeland security, law enforcement and school safety, and former Arkansas representative Asa Hutchinson was the group’s director.
While Langevin supports the current practice of having trained resource officers, who are full-uniformed officers, on-site, he feels there is a “moral obligation” to keep gun legislation focused on keeping guns away from criminals and the mentally ill.
“This report does not make any constructive suggestions toward this goal and the NRA offers no attempt to address violence that occurs in other locations,” said Langevin.
Mayor Scott Avedisian and Police Chief Steven McCartney are sharing their views on this controversial recommendation.
“I do not favor putting armed guards in our school buildings nor do I favor metal detectors at every entrance. What I do favor is the structural changes that the city has approved for the schools to have a better entrance and egress system to buildings that includes locked doors, buzzers and intercom systems,” said Avedisian in an e-mail.
McCartney feels that having an armed guard would do nothing to deter a determined shooter.
“If an armed gunman is intent on committing an act of school violence or workplace violence, it is my belief that he will do it regardless of whether there is armed personnel there or not,” said McCartney in an e-mail statement. “Deterrence is always a very hard measure to quantify other than to say that no incident has occurred.”
The two city officials, like Langevin, support the current use of resource officers.
“Colonel McCartney and I have long maintained that our school resource officers are great assets to our schools. We also have made a commitment to having a more visible presence in our junior high schools,” said Avedisian. The officers are assigned to the city’s three high schools.
McCartney also brought up a number of factors that would need to be considered. He believes the position and feelings of Avedisian, City Council, school department, School Committee, principals, teachers and parents need to be brought to light. There is also a question of potential costs and liability issues.
“What procedural stance is the school department going to take here? Is this person’s primary responsibility to protect the students and teachers, or is it to neutralize the gunman?” asked McCartney, adding that there would need to be appropriate training in not just firearms, but emergency measures for student and teacher protection. A decision would need to be made on who would provide that training.
The chief said there would also need to be a procedure in place to incorporate armed personnel on-site into the school safety and police response plans “to avoid a ‘friendly’ fire incident.”
Finally, according to McCartney, it would need to be determined if school staff and faculty would be held to the personnel selection criteria standards and psychological fitness testing required by law of police candidates in order to be armed.
“The bottom line, since we are talking about the potential application of deadly force, I would advocate that this very important responsibility should be handled by trained, Rhode Island certified police officers,” said McCartney.
Langevin, a member of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, said this NSS study does nothing to address the majority of the country’s concerns and only supports gun advocates.
“With more than 90 percent of the public supporting the common sense step of universal background checks and an unacceptably large number of sales occurring without one, any effective gun safety plan would start with that step,” he said. “Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the NRA is not interested in a constructive conversation about keeping our schools and communities safe from gun violence, but instead only wants to serve the interests of the gun industry, which are not representative of the vast majority of the American people.”
While the NRA funded the study, they have yet to release an official statement regarding the recommendations. A brief response on the NRA Institute for Legislative Action’s website reads, “We need time to digest the full report. We commend Asa Hutchinson for his rapid response in the aftermath of the Newtown tragedy, and we are certain the contributions he and his team have made will go a long way to making America’s schools safer.”
Neither Warwick Schools Superintendent Richard D’Agostino nor School Committee Chair Beth Furtado could not be reached for comment.
The full NSS Task Force report can be found at www.nraschoolshield.com.