Between the Lines — Legislators miss the target

By David Lias

Guns were not to blame for the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that killed 20 children and six adults.

That was the conclusion of National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre, who added, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with gun.”

Speaking a week after the deadly shootings in Newtown, CT, LaPierre added that future school shootings could only be prevented if schools have armed security guards, just as the Secret Service protects President Obama.

I was left a bit incredulous by that statement at the time. It’s not that I don’t want kids to be safe. I certainly do. I don’t think schools brimming with armed guards is the answer, however.

It appears that the South Dakota House of Representatives thinks LaPierre’s idea is right on target. Tuesday, it voted to approve HB 1087, which calls for implementing a “school sentinel” program for public schools across our state.

And why bother with placing professional marksmen or active law enforcement personnel in our schools?

Along with the myriad of duties our teachers must accomplish each day, they can serve as our sentinels, too. Good Lord.

This is how bad of an idea HB 1087 is. The only way supporters of the legislation in the SD House kept it alive is by repeating, time and again, that implementing the program will be a “local decision” made by the school boards of every school district.

But guess what? In its current form, this bill requires that the “local decision” that has been pawned off from legislators to school board members must be made behind closed doors.

In other words, the sentinel program, if implemented in a school, must be kept secret. You know – we can’t let news like that slip. What if the bad guys find out?

“The bad guys will have no knowledge of any school that has taken advantage of being able to have a sentinel,” said Rep. Charlie Hoffman, R-Eureka, on the House floor Tuesday.

There’s just one problem. The good guys – parents, taxpayers, the general public — will be denied knowledge of whether or not their community’s school buildings contains guns.

They may be pistols. Maybe even a shotgun or two. And where will the guns be kept? Will each teacher need to wear a pistol concealed on his or her person?  How many armed teachers are enough? What about the janitor? Will he be wearing a Glock along with that big ring of keys on his belt? Where is the ammo kept?

I guess we’ll never know.

Does that sound like good policy to you?

Al Leber, who served many years as principal at Vermillion High School and today is superintendent at Dakota Valley, summed up our concerns very well. Shortly after the Newtown shootings, he told the Sioux City Journal that the proposal that eventually emerged as HB 1087 misses the underlying problem, and places an undue burden on teachers by expecting them to shoot and kill an armed intruder.

Leber said the focus should be on gun control and mental health issues.

This school sentinel idea makes about as much sense as calling a first grade teacher out of the bleachers during a Tanager football game to check and see if one of our players, who just got his bell rung, has suffered a concussion.

It’s a silly notion, I know. That’s why we have a health professional on the sidelines at sporting events, to help with injuries both serious and mild.

Our teachers devote at least four years in post-secondary education to honing their craft. Many of them go on to get advanced degrees so that even with limited resources, they can help our students excel.

Teachers are educators. They are not sentinels.

Making them sentinels does nothing to address 1) whether there is a potential in South Dakota to have a crazed shooter open fire on a school, and 2) the steps that need to be taken to stop such an incident from ever happening.

Do we need better gun control policies? Do we need better mental health screenings and services in our state? Are gun shows in South Dakota regulated adequately? Has there been any discussion of these or similar issues in Pierre with a goal toward making our schools safer?

The sentinel bill is really a non-solution if lawmakers won’t include those other important issues in the debate about school safety. We encourage the SD Senate to shoot it down.

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One Response to Between the Lines — Legislators miss the target

  1. Bruce Plate says:

    OK MR LIAS, Who Missed The Point? As usual you are making up fabrications and lies. I do not see in the legislation that school boards will require teachers to carry firearms.
    If the idea of having armed personnel, whomever they may be, in schools is a bad idea, then why are all 50 state legislatures and thousands of communities discussing this option. This is not a new idea. There have been armed law enforcement personnel in schools across the nation for the past 4 decades.
    Here is my observation on this issue. Parents and teachers, by and large, do not want firearms in their schools. They want a pleasant learning environment away from the thought that violence could occur. However, all parents and teachers want the best safety and security for their children away from abuse from others or violence carried out by an intruder. Here is the opportunity for new ideas. I want to see what parents, teachers, school administrators propose for better security. I will predict the final proposal will come down to tax dollars. I hope a solution which is acceptable to our community and our state is allowed to happen. Perhaps it would be advantageous if the news media outlets would allow the free exchange of ideas.

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