Editorials

Armed guards or teachers in all Missouri schools? Who thinks more guns are a good idea?

Guns on campus: Constitutional or crazy?

Kansas Democratic Party Chairman Lee Kinch and Republican Chairman Kelly Arnold square off over campus concealed carry, coming to Kansas universities next year. (April 14, 2016)
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Kansas Democratic Party Chairman Lee Kinch and Republican Chairman Kelly Arnold square off over campus concealed carry, coming to Kansas universities next year. (April 14, 2016)

A governor’s task force in Missouri has concluded that the state’s schools would be safer if an armed guard or teacher stood watch in every building.

“Schools should have the benefit of an armed School Resource Officer or an armed School Protection Officer in every school,” the report recommends. “To provide an immediate response in the event of an active shooter situation.”

A school resource officer is a security guard or police officer. A school protection officer is a teacher or staff member.

The recommendation is deeply flawed. Unfortunately, it obscures other important conclusions in the report, which was ordered by Gov. Mike Parson.

An armed guard in every school is a stunning admission of failure. Calling for more firearms in schools is an acknowledgment that lawmakers would rather turn classrooms into armed fortresses than enact commonsense gun regulations.

That’s a dangerous proposition. Arming teachers and staff members, even with training, puts kids at risk.

And there’s little evidence it will work. Last year in Parkland, Florida, an armed school resource officer allegedly hid outside a school building while a gunman killed 17 students inside. That officer now faces criminal charges.

Adding armed guards to schools is also expensive. State law requires schools to be open for 1,044 hours this year; at $15 an hour, an armed guard would cost $15,660.

There are roughly 2,255 public school buildings in Missouri. Putting an armed officer in every one would cost $35.3 million.

The state would pay for none of it. “Funding decisions are made entirely at the district level,” the report points out, “as Missouri does not provide funding for (armed guard) programs in individual school districts.”

Why not? If Missouri lawmakers truly feel an armed presence is essential to protect kids, they would step up and fully fund guards in every school building.

Somehow, we don’t think that’s going to happen.

There are other ways to protect children, some of which are outlined in the task force’s report: strong intelligence gathering, training, improving mental health services, effective emergency planning. The report suggests a state-level school security coordinator, using robust tip lines and working on school culture.

All are good ideas. Spending $35 million to beef up mental health services and intelligence sharing would do more to protect kids than arming guards and teachers.

Throw in reasonable restrictions on ownership of rapid-fire weaponry and you have the outlines of a real effort to bring safety to the classroom.

“Missouri schools are, overwhelmingly, very safe places for children to learn and grow,” the task force found. The state can help ensure that continues to be true by investing in real protection, not by turning schools into free-fire zones.

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