Armed School Staff Orientation


More than half the states in America have provisions in law allowing concealed carry of firearms in public K-12 schools, usually by staff members only, and usually at the discretion of the local school board. You are here because your district has availed itself of that opportunity to enhance school security, and you have volunteered for this role. This short course discusses the nature of school shootings in modern America, the rationale for armed school staff, and the objectives of your training.  

It is important to remember that your school district's governing policy defines what you cannot and cannot do as an armed staff member. Your trainers should be familiar with your policy, and your curriculum will reflect it, but in all cases, district policy and the laws of your state are the final authority. 

THE NEED FOR ARMED SECURITY

A review of school shootings in recent decades shows us several things. There can always be exceptions, and you must be prepared for the unexpected, but here is what we have seen:

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School shootings are almost always planned and prepared in advance, with intimate knowledge of the target. They are not impulse crimes. They are most often committed by people with detailed knowledge of the school, for instance current or former students, parents, or staff. They will know in advance about the school's security features and procedures, and will plan to defeat or circumvent them. The one thing they should never be allowed to know is how many staff members are carrying concealed weapons, who they are, and where they are at any given time. That uncertainty has enormous deterrent value - a conclusion based both on logic and on experience, because no school shootings have occurred in schools that had school staff members carrying concealed firearms. 

Most school shootings are over within 5-10 minutes. During that time, there is an average of one more victim every 6-8 seconds, until the shooter decides to stop (often taking his own life), or is forced to stop by the intervention of police or others. Fortunately, the mentally and/or emotionally disturbed perpetrators often act unpredictably and do not maximize the time available to them; else the casualties overall would be much higher. As you will demonstrate yourself, accurate shots from a handgun at close range can be delivered much more quickly than this average - as if one more innocent life every 6-8 seconds were not terrible enough.

Law enforcement response time to most schools in America averages 5-10 minutes. This is the time that elapses between receipt of a 9-1-1 call and arrival of the first officers outside school buildings. Add to that the time elapsed between the first shot fired by an offender, and the placement of the 9-1-1 call - sometimes several minutes - and the time it will take the first officer(s) to orient to the problem, determine the location of the shooter, move to his location and stop him. Even if this total time does not exceed 10 minutes, simple multiplication shows the possibility of 60 or more casualties before police will be able to intervene effectively. 

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It is simple and tragically true that police seldom arrive soon enough to actually stop a mass shooting in a school; the shooting is usually over before they are on scene and able to intervene. Law enforcement officers are subject to the tyrannies of distance and time. This does not reflect badly on the police, it is a simple fact that "when seconds count, they are minutes away." 

This critical response gap is why we need trained, armed personnel on site in our schools, able to intervene far more quickly than the police.  

Normalcy bias is the assumption that since nothing has happened before now, that it never will.  It leads many people are to believe that a school shooting "can't happen here." But sadly, we hear that from the survivors every time it does happen - no one believed it could happen in their school until the day it did.  The probability it happening in your school is very small; let's make it even less likely, and not leave ourselves defenseless if it does happen.

OTHER SECURITY MEASURES

Armed school staff are only part - though a critical part - of a comprehensive school security strategy. Other elements are important and all of them are complementary, but none of them are sufficient in themselves, and none of them eliminate the need for armed personnel on site.

Physical security measures such as a single, controlled point of entry, shatterproof or bullet-resistant glass, locks on office and classroom doors, and redundant communication systems are important but are always susceptible to breaching or compromise. Additional entries are unlocked at various times of day; locks and glass can be defeated by gunfire or other methods; lockdown and lockout procedures seldom protect all the people in a building, especially if they are not initiated until an attack is already underway. It is a military axiom that physical barriers (even minefields and barbed wire!) do no more than delay or inconvenience an adversary, unless they are covered by observation and fire. Our physical security is usually less formidable than that, because we will not (and should not!) turn our schools into either fortresses or prisons.

Procedures such as lockdown, lockout, and evacuation are important; but their effectiveness is entirely dependent on early warning, and on all responsible adults knowing the procedures and carrying them out effectively in a crisis. Training in these emergency procedures is usually less frequent and less realistic than fire drills. And as noted, offenders usually understand these responses at least as well as we do ourselves; for instance, the Parkland, Florida shooter was not dismayed by a school-wide lockdown; he simply activated the fire alarm. The Sandy Hook shooter was not admitted through the locked front door, so he simply shot out the adjacent glass panel, reached through, and opened the door from the inside.

Prevention, detection, and intervention policies and programs are well-proven to be effective in stopping potential violence by students, and are critical components of school security. But many schools where shootings have occurred had such programs in place, but the shooters slipped through undetected or untreated. Even if nine out of every ten potential violent offenders are detected and referred for some form of treatment, it is the one who gets through that we must be prepared to stop. And of course, not all shooters are students anyway; former students, parents, and staff are far less likely to be identified and addressed by prevention programs.

LEGAL BASIS

Everywhere in the United States, the federal Gun Free School Zones Act of 1996 prohibits possession of firearms in or within 1,000 feet of any school. There are several exceptions to this prohibition, and the operative one here is for any persons "licensed by the state" to carry a firearm in these venues. That license can be a concealed carry permit, so long as the state law regarding those permits explicitly allows permittees - or a defined subset of them - to carry on school grounds. State laws differ, but in many cases, local school boards are granted discretion to approve the carry of firearms by employees possessing concealed carry permits, who meet specific standards established in law and/or school board policy.

WHO WILL BE AND SHOULD BE ARMED

The responsibilities incurred by carrying a firearm in the schools must be accepted voluntarily and with full knowledge. No one should be asked or required to do so, if they are not willing. Generally speaking, 5-10% of the work force in any school building is adequate to provide flexible, redundant, and effective protection. But even one or two can make an enormous difference.

Most school districts protect the identity of armed staff members, both for their own protection and to enhance the deterrence value of their presence. Your school board, your administration, your trainers, and your fellow armed staff members must all take that confidentiality seriously.

EXPECTATIONS

What you will and will not be, when you complete your initial training and are approved for concealed carry in your school:

  • You will not be a law enforcement officer. It will not be your duty to investigate or respond to violations of law or school policy that do not involve immediate lethal threats. All that is still the job of the police.
  • You will be well-trained to carry a concealed handgun safely and discreetly, and to use it to save innocent lives - your own and others' - if the need arises.

Your initial training with DSI will prepare you to respond effectively to a lethal threat in your school. It will teach you to identify threats and respond appropriately, which includes knowing when not to deploy the handgun and when it is not appropriate to shoot. It will teach you critical skills necessary in the immediate aftermath of a shooting - any shooting - including lifesaving immediate medical care to the injured, in the critical minutes before Emergency Medical Service arrive and are cleared to enter the scene. You will learn how to make an effective 9-1-1 call and how to interact with responding law enforcement officers to ensure your safety and theirs. You will learn how important regular practice and recurrent training is, to maintain your skills and your mental readiness to act effectively in a crisis.

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