SANDPOINT — Supporters say arming school staff members could save innocent lives; critics contend that it could take them unintentionally.
Hundreds packed the Sandpoint High School auditorium for the start of what will likely be a long and divisive debate over arming district staff members. The Lake Pend Oreille School Board took no action on the proposal, using the opportunity to gauge public reaction instead.
“This is a deliberate process, and it’s going to take a long time,” trustee chairman Steve Youngdahl said.
Of the more than two dozen public comments collected during the evening, about 18 were in favor, 12 were opposed and three were neutral.
Supporters voiced dismay that schools were the only place they couldn’t properly protect their children, saying turning schools into no gun zones made them attractive targets for attack. Many were also encouraged by the suggested use of Intelliguns — an add-on locking a pistol from firing until handled by an authorized user. Clark Fork residents and a pair of Clark Fork High School students were especially concerned about long response times from law enforcement, during which they’d be vulnerable to a theoretical armed attacker.
“In local school districts, response time is killing time,” said Danielle Ahrens.
However, opponents of the proposal said that money would be better spent on efforts to reduce bullying and poverty or implementing programs to better connect local students to the workforce after graduation. Some, like Sandpoint High School teacher Tyler Haynes, worried that an impulsive decision by an armed school staff member could result in the unnecessary death of a child. Others, like Karl Dye, regretted Sandpoint’s association with the controversial subject.
“Our community is now identified (by the media) with this issue, and I’m disappointed,” he said. “This is not what our community is about.”
Regardless of their position on the proposal, most agreed the board should take its time researching and gathering comments before making a decision.
“The easiest thing to do is teach someone how to load a gun, how to conceal a gun, how to fire a gun,” said former police officer Tom Suttmeier, who declared neutrality on the proposal. “The hardest thing to do is teach a person when and when not to shoot that gun.”
Despite the emotionally-charged subject, audience members and commenters largely followed instructions to maintain a respectful tone. The only significant outburst came when Marty Stitsel said introducing more guns into a culture resulted in more gun violence — an assertion met with profanity from one audience member.
At the meeting’s conclusion, trustee Mindy Cameron, in response to Youngdahl’s independent research and proposal of the subject, motioned to start investigations of school security over from the beginning, this time with full board involvement. The motion was voted down by the board. Youngdahl also resisted Cameron’s request to read a statement, saying it was out of order for that particular meeting.
In response to a question from Cameron, Superintendent Shawn Woodward said most of the comments he’s received personally were against the proposal. He added his recommendation was to not move forward with introducing armed staff into schools.