With Concealed Carry Laws, Operational Uncertainties Confuse School Administrators

This former principal describes the questions and concerns he and other K-12 officials would have should a person who is not in law enforcement legally bring a gun onto school property.

As common to a person raised in the western side of our nation, I am comfortable with firearms. I do not recoil from a gun’s appearance or use, and steadfastly believe in the constitutionality of privately owned firearms. Like many western dads, I too have raised a family in the safe handling and enjoyment of a wide variety of firearms.

Along with the responsible handling of firearms, I have also taught the concept that with great rights come great responsibilities, especially when employing a right that can harm or kill others. Like so many other rights, the handling of firearms has the potential to harm and must be done with an understanding of awareness, context and restraint.

This leads me to the discussion of firearms on a K-12 school campus. Many states across the nation are engaging in legislative discussions focused on the rights of individuals to carry firearms onto school campuses.

These discussions typically center on allowing a conceal carry permit holder the right to carry on school campuses in both the K-12 and college environment. The generally accepted “pro” argument is that self-protection is an individual right, granted by the constitution, as expressed in the 2nd Amendment. While I deeply appreciate the 2nd Amendment and agree with the intent of the personal right and responsibility, as a former public school principal I have serious concerns regarding the operational reality of allowing non-law enforcement individuals the right to carry on a school campus.

Campus Crime Prevention Gets Complicated When Guns Are Allowed
Currently, a school’s response to a gun on campus has been straightforward and immediately implementable. At the first sign of a gun on campus, call a school-wide lockdown. As long as teachers are aware of the steps, and have securable space, the response is quick and simple.

At this point, what follows a lockdown might well be grounds for debate, but the essential elements remain the same: “gun-on-campus = lockdown.”

Lockdown policies came about through the determination of two factors. The first developed after passage of the “Gun-Free Schools Act of 1994,” which compelled school systems to create zero tolerance policies or risk losing all federal funding.

Accordingly, school districts across our nation adopted these policies, which disallowed any person outside of law enforcement to bring firearms onto a school campus. The second factor became a widespread promotion of lockdown procedures by law enforcement following the Columbine shooting. Hence, “gun-on-campus = lockdown.”

However, when individuals are allowed to carry a gun onto school property, the basic operational assumption changes. Do I call lockdown at the first sign of a gun, or do I ask to see the person’s permit? If conceal carry is widely granted to my faculty and staff, will I have the right to ask who is carrying, or in doing so am I violating their 2nd Amendment rights?

With legal carry, the procedure may well include an additional step to the gun-on-campus process. Now the process may be: “gun-on-campus, check status of carrying individual, make decision to lockdown or not.” The addition of an investigation period will cost time, when standoff time could be at its most precious.

What Is the Gun Owner’s State of Mind?
An overlooked fact of school communities is that they are at the same time both a workplace and a school. While individual staff members, spouses or parents may well be known to me, their state of mind at the current time is not. Any reasonable size school community includes people who are going through things like divorces, custody battles, experiencing loss, fighting depression or maybe even considering suicide.

I have witnessed adults who started the school year healthy, happy and stable; and end their year with divorce, bitterness and under medical supervision. And in the future, that off-balanced person may well be legally carrying a firearm on campus.

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