01/08/13 — Board of Education talks about guns in schools

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Board of Education talks about guns in schools

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 8, 2013 1:46 PM

Recent shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., sparked a lively debate on the need for improved campus safety at Monday night's Board of Education meeting.

"Limited resources" in school districts are just one problem, Board Chairman John Grantham said.

"It would be nice if we could have something that would have immediate impact," he said. "Right now all of our schools are pretty much defenseless. They don't have a resource officer."

The law enforcement presence is currently only funded at the high school level.

Grantham said he had spoken with several board members as well as the sheriff, and would invite the public to also weigh in on options for improving safety.

One recourse mentioned was to request the state allow schools to relax requirements and permit carrying of a concealed weapon on campus. He suggested that if the principal at Sandy Hook, where 20 students were killed last month, had had a weapon, maybe there would have been fewer casualties.

"You have got to have something to stop these people," Grantham said. "Most of these people when they're first confronted, they take their own life. Why not stop them sooner?"

Board member Rick Pridgen said his first instinct was to check with the board attorney to see the legal ramifications.

Then he saw a Raleigh news report about a group of teachers taking a concealed weapon class, prompting thoughts of how easy and accessible it would be for a shooter to wrestle away a gun during a struggle.

Pridgen said he had also spoken with the sheriff and came away with the realization that even if more resource officers were hired in the district, if someone really meant harm, they could still shoot them and be gone.

"The problems are mental health problems and I don't think we should do anything, me personally. If the board wants to, that's fine," he said. "I don't think we should be advocates for having more guns, firearms in our schools."

Board member Arnold Flowers disagreed with Pridgen's position.

He said the media failed to represent all the stories of "hundreds of thousands of lives" saved by those who had weapons and defended themselves.

"I sleep better at night knowing that law abiding citizens are armed," he said. "I'm convinced that it's a deterrent.

"The nation of Israel, all the teachers are armed. I'm not saying that we arm all of our teachers, but anybody that would be on our campus, that's a law abiding citizen and has a carry permit, I feel like our kids would be safer."

Board member Chris West felt cooler heads need to prevail.

"I'm not anti-gun," he said. "I own guns myself, but the logistics of putting guns on campus, I just think it's got to be a very thought-out process."

West said it would be tricky to keep weapons safe on campus and prevent their contributing to the problem.

"I'm not against it. I'm not for it," he said. "I don't know what the answer is, what the logistics are for keeping a gun safe."

The Rev. Dr. Dwight Cannon, the newest board member, said he believes in the right to bear arms but would prefer to have the backing from a higher authority, like the state. He said he favored further study of the matter.

Board member Eddie Radford took a neutral position, saying there is no clear-cut answer.

The former principal recalled a handful of occasions when he "took guns off kids" and while they might have brought them to school for "show and tell" rather than an actual threat, it was still a chilling feeling to reach into a pocket and discover a weapon.

"It's real hard to keep secrets from kids, who's got a gun," he said. "If we designate a spot for the gun to be in and the person designated to use it is three hallways away, there's a lot of questions that need to be asked."

Radford said he favors the superintendent and district leadership team taking a hard look at the issue.

"At this time I would not want to arm people. I think it would do a lot of damage," he said. "There's a lot of difference between shooting at a can and shooting at a man."

Grantham pointed out that the places where a concealed weapon is prohibited are also "choice targets" for shooters -- schools, theaters, conventions -- places where there are large crowds.

Dr. Steven Taylor, schools superintendent, suggested that while it might be beneficial for funding to provide a trained officer at all schools, there is no guarantee it would prevent future tragedies.

"We have to get to the root of the problem. When some people are showing signs of mental illness or making threats, somebody needs to do something about that," he said. "My problem is with what we do, we have to make sure that we don't create an even bigger problem."

Grantham said he hopes the public will also get involved in the debate.

"What are we going to do, sit around and wait for something to happen without doing anything?" he said. "If you're going to wait for the mental health situation to be taken care of, you could be waiting until the cows come home."