California educators and Democratic politicians are rebuking the National Rifle Association for suggesting that more guns in schools would keep students, teachers and staff safer. The NRA broke its silence about the massacre of children and teachers last week at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School, holding a news conference Friday in Washington, D.C.
“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” said NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre in a quote heard around the country. He called on Congress to put armed police officers in every school in the country.
“In the wake of last week’s tragedy, it’s disheartening that anyone would think the answer is to have more guns in and around our schools,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson in an email.
California Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg echoed the sentiment in a statement on his website saying, “The NRA’s suggestion that we militarize our schools is not the solution.”
But many California schools already have resource officers and armed police officers stationed on campus. A survey of about 300 school districts by EdSource last July found that 52 percent of the state’s high schools, 16 percent of middle schools and 5 percent of elementary schools already have police or resource officers. In high schools 83 percent of those officers are armed. That drops to 75 percent in middle schools and 59 percent in elementary schools.
In the San Francisco Unified School District, which has police or resource officers in all its high schools and middle schools, they aren’t really there for violence prevention, said longtime school board member Jill Wynns.
“The real purpose of having the resource officers is to connect the police to the students and the school,” she explained. “We think it’s important for students to know the police in their neighborhood, and we think we need relationships with them for that to be effective.”
Wynns said the San Francisco Police Department pays for the officers posted in schools, but regardless of who foots the bill – the district, the police, the federal or state government – the price tag is high. The National Association of School Resource Officers estimates it would cost between $80,000 and $100,000 per officer. With about 8,300 schools, the conservative estimate for California is about $668 million a year. The organization is also in general agreement with the NRA about the benefits of armed officers in schools. “A well-trained, armed, school-based police officer is one of the best defenses against an active shooter in a school,” wrote executive director Mo Canady in comments on the group’s home page.
Decisions on how to spend the limited funds available for education shouldn’t be made by the NRA, said Wynns. “In my personal view, we should be concerned that someone outside of school districts would say, ‘Oh yes, we should make a major investment in armed guards in our schools,’ but not in making sure that we have enough money for instruction.”
Schools also are generally safe places for children; despite the unimaginable horror of mass murders like those at Sandy Hook and Columbine. In cities, the streets are the most dangerous place. “Gun violence has haunted me my entire life,” U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told PBS NewsHour reporter Gwen Ifill in an interview that aired Friday night. “I had a lot of mentors, good friends I grew up with, shot dead when I was growing up,” said Duncan, choking back tears.
More recently, when he was superintendent of Chicago Public Schools, Duncan said “we buried a child killed by gun violence every two weeks.” They weren’t shot in school, they were shot walking to school or, in one case, by a stray bullet fired by an automatic rifle that tore through a house one morning and killed a girl as she was getting ready for school.
When Ifill cited some elected officials, including governors, who said if teachers at Sandy Hook had been armed they might have been able to protect themselves and their students, Duncan disagreed. “We can’t fight evil with evil. We need less guns not more; we need schools gun free,” he said. America needs to have the conversation, said Duncan, adding, “I promise you, very very few teachers are asking for more guns in school.”