In the wake of recent mass shootings, school districts around the country are stepping up security measures to protect their students, faculty and staff. Along those lines, some are arming their respective police departments with AR-15s – a decision that many see as being controversial.
The latest to take this step toward enhanced school safety is the Fontana Unified School District Police Department in Southern California, which – with the blessing of FUSD Superintendent Cali Olsen-Binks – purchased 14 Colt LE6940 rifles last fall following the movie theater shooting in Aurora, CO.
The rifles were delivered in December, just prior to the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. In the ensuing weeks, the district’s school police officers would spend 40 hours training with their new semiautomatic rifles, according to the Associated Press.
Fontana Police Chief Rodney Jones and Mayor Acquanetta Warren backed the call to acquire the rifles.
“It’s unfortunate that we have to have that, but it’s the best message we can send to anybody that thinks to harm our children,” Jones KCAL 9. “The message we’re sending is…not here, not now, we’re prepared for you. And if you seek to harm our children, we will neutralize that threat and you will most likely be killed.”
Mayor Warren added, “Everyone wants children safe. At this time, we as a community, we have to come together and find other ways. But in the interim, our police officers need to be equipped.”
The rifles are stored in a fireproof safe at the police department’s main office. Only sergeants reporting for duty can check them out before each shift.
Though, despite the precautions, critics see the added firepower as sending the wrong message.
“Children aren’t born with a gun in their hand and vengeance in their mind. They aren’t necessarily going to grow into being a killer. We, as a society, need to address why children are growing up to commit these acts as teens and adults. I don’t see how adding more weapons on a campus is addressing that,” Child development specialist Anna Conklin told KCAL9.
Instead of equipping police officers with AR-15s, Conklin believes that a comprehensive approach to counseling would be a better way to address violence on campus.
Others fretted that the move may lead to an arms race, an escalation of firepower between deranged shooters and the local police.
“If a person who has the intention of coming on campus to kill… knows we have the AR-15s…they might come with something even bigger or better,” said school board members Sophia Green. “They will come prepared.”
In truth, the fears and reservations of the critics may be overblown. For several years now, other school districts in and around Los Angeles County have adopted rifle programs and have been incident-free, including Santa Ana Unified School District and the Los Angeles School Police Department.
For many, including school officials who may be wary about guns, it seems to come down to the common sense pro gun motto: better to have and not need than to need and not have.
“I came from a teaching background, and it’s appalling to think that we’d have to have security officers — let alone armed police officers — on our campuses. But the bottom line is … everybody has anxiety over school safety right now,” Superintendent Olsen-Binks told the AP.
“Our police officers said they would take a bullet for these kids and because they are willing to put their lives on the line, they need to be equipped for all scenarios,” she added.