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Saturday, June 15
The Indiana Daily Student

education

Bill to place guns in schools sent to study committee

Tara Haelle has five guns in her house. She also has a 2-year-old son, Darrell.

A former teacher, guns on campuses scare Haelle. She supports gun use for sport and even self-defense, but she doesn’t see the great gun debate being resolved by placing firearms on campuses.

Haelle is a member of Parents Against Gun Violence, a group of University of Texas-Austin graduates who came together on Facebook after the Newtown, Conn., shootings in December 2012. Some members of the group, like Haelle, are gun owners, and some aren’t.  

Haelle and the rest of the members of Parents Against Gun Violence all agree, however, that guns and school aren’t a pairing they support.  

“It doesn’t ever bring down the tension,” Haelle said about having guns in the classroom. “Just its existence raises the stakes.”

Something needs to be done, Haelle said.

Some in the Indiana General Assembly are working toward what they hope will be the end of gun violence on school campuses. Senate Bill 0001, relegated to a summer committee study April 11, mandates that public schools employ armed resource officers to increase safety on school campuses. The initiative would mean the presence of firearms in Indiana schools.

According to the bill, a school resource officer “means an individual who has successfully completed the minimum training requirements ... and who has specialized training to work with students at a school site.”

A school resource officer can be a teacher, a school administrator, a staff member or a hired security officer.

“I think we need to do anything within reason to ensure the safety of schoolchildren,” Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel, the House bill sponsor, said. “I mean, if we can do anything that will help prevent that type of tragedy in a school or even reduce the number of casualties, it’s worth the effort.”

Torr clarified the bill was not a response to the Newtown shootings.

An owner of more than one gun himself, Torr said Indiana was actually the first state to require safety assessments in its schools. The security assessments review what the schools would do in high-risk situations, he said.

Haelle taught for seven years in Texas schools and said, despite her respect for guns, they have no place in schools. The presence of a gun brings up too many “impossible” moral situations.

Haelle asked, what if a child gets ahold of the gun? Or what should a teacher do in the case of a shooter if he or she is designated as the resource officer? Do they leave their students alone in the classroom, attempting to find the shooter? Or do they stay with their students, allowing the shooter or intruder to possibly harm others, left unprotected, in the school?

This proposed legislation is only a band-aid solution, Haelle said. Arming teachers is not the way to stop potential gun violence.

Some within the Indiana educational field agree with Haelle.

“There is a high level of reassurance that our children are safe when they are with us,” said John Althardt, the spokesman for Indianapolis Public Schools.

The IPS corporation hires its own police force, stationing a school-based police officer at each middle and high school and employing additional officers to patrol campuses and IPS administrative buildings.  

The proposals from SB0001 worry IPS. Specifically, IPS is concerned about the costs associated with the program and the training that might be required, Althardt said.

Jay True, assistant principal at Bloomington South High School, echoed these concerns.

“You want a teacher or a security guard with a gun?” True said.

True worries that the massive cuts slashing many different areas of public education will leave no one to fund the initiatives SB 0001 proposes.

Bloomington South currently employs four security officers. True isn’t sure one more would make that much of a difference.

“It’s a school, not a fortress,” he said.

A school of 1,700 students entering and leaving through 30 doors a day can only be so protected, he said. If it comes down to one more security guard or a teacher, he said, you have to make a cost-benefit analysis.

Another issue arises in training. Training for school-based police officers is significantly different from that of everyday police officers, Althardt said.

IPS uses its own strategy to protect students and employees. Althardt said they look at school districts with populations similar to IPS and see what safety tactics they use. IPS reviews communities like Fort Wayne, which holds about 300 more students than IPS’s 30,000 students, he said. Other urban school districts like Nashville, Dayton and Cincinnati are also close comparisons.

It’s the small town of Newtown, Conn., however, that has many worried.

On Dec. 14, 2012, Adam Lanza, 20, shot and killed 20 schoolchildren and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Even though Newtown is not the inspiration for Senate Bill 0001, Torr said it amplified the bill’s presence.

Parents Against Gun Violence does not believe the Newtown tragedy will be the end of the violence.

“This will not be the last one,” Haelle said.     

In January of this year, MeLinda Porter, who lives outside Muncie, heard about the group “Moms Demand Gun Sense for America” with its campaign “One Million Moms for Gun Control” and attended her first pro-Second Amendment rally to protest against the group’s pro-gun control stance.

“I can tell you that the tragedy at Sandy Hook did affect me,” Porter said. “I had not been careful about carrying a weapon, and after the tragedy I was reminded of the evil in the world. I have not left my home without a weapon since.”

Porter, a mother of three and a handgun owner, started her own group, “Indiana Moms Against Gun Control,” earlier this year.

“We feel that requiring schools to have armed personnel has become a necessary step in protecting our children and school staff from the violent tragedies that have struck too many American schools,” Porter said.

That final decision, however, will be further discussed by a state study committee this summer after the legislature closes its session early next week.

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