Melinda Henneberger

Melinda Henneberger: Assault weapons aren’t actually making Shawnee Mission schools safer

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The head of security for Shawnee Mission schools insists that the roving officers who help protect the district’s 45 schools have been armed with semi-automatic rifles because school shootings have become so prevalent that resource officers need such weapons to keep kids safe.

But unless we’re going to have snipers in watch towers guarding every entrance of every school — and no, that’s not a good idea, either — how much protection do those Smith & Wessons really offer against what’s still, thankfully, an incredibly unlikely danger?

Making sure kids wear sunscreen every day would be far more likely to save some lives.

But that’s not how former Overland Park police chief John Douglass, the district’s director of safety and security, sees it.

He argues that because the distance a trained officer can shoot with accuracy with a pistol is only about 25 feet — far shorter than a typical school hallway — officers need those rifles.

And if that were to fail, bring in the machine guns?

It isn’t only Shawnee Mission that’s upping the firepower in schools; other local districts work with police officers who have access to these rifles, too. But unbeknownst to most Shawnee Mission parents, the district bought assault-style rifles for seven district resource officers and their supervisor in 2015.

Some of them wonder, rightly, why no one asked how they felt about that.

Particularly with school budgets so lean, it’s hard to see what taxpayers got for their $5,671.04.

Even if the worst should occur, it isn’t as though those officers would be handling an active shooter situation on their own.

They aren’t based in any one school, so they would probably still have to be called in, just like the SWAT team.

Douglass says we shouldn’t worry because this weapon “is a very serious weapon for some very limited circumstances. You are never going to see it unless something really, really bad is happening.” That’s how it’s supposed to work, but we know that officers, being human, sometimes misapprehend a situation.

Meanwhile — aspiring car burglars, don’t read this — these rifles, just like the less high-powered weapons that the police and resource officers who are based in schools full-time have, are usually left locked in their cars. Which again raises the question of how much good they’re going to do in the case of an emergency.

Yes, it’s true that it’s better to arm trained officers than English teachers, but those aren’t the only choices.

Doing the first will not keep those who believe that more guns mean more safety from arguing that teachers and students should also be packing.

After all, some Kansas college students will be able to carry guns on campus as of July 1. (And does anyone really think that guns + liquor + the not yet fully developed prefrontal cortex = no problem?)

What more and bigger guns most reliably lead to is just this: more and bigger guns.