SANDPOINT — Over the next few months, the Lake Pend Oreille School Board will be exploring the pros and cons of a guns-in-the-classroom policy.
After several months of research, trustee chairman Steve Youngdahl presented the board with a proposed program to train and arm district staff. While the proposal is still in a preliminary form, Youngdahl said he believed unguarded schools made them more attractive as targets for a mass shooting.
“Our campuses are vulnerable, and when seconds count, we need a first line of defense,” he said.
Youngdahl cited a study that indicated mass shootings halted by police officers resulted in an average 14 shot individuals, while an assault stopped by civilians yielded an average of 2.5. That’s because law enforcement often take minutes to arrive — the longest response time to an LPOSD school is about 20 minutes.
When lives can be lost or saved in a matter of seconds, there needs to be some measure of instant defense in place, Youngdahl said.
Therefore, he proposed strategically selecting and training staff to carry concealed weapons in school, integrating them into the broader emergency response and lock-down procedures. The identity of these individuals would only be known to law enforcement and school administrators. Not knowing where armed resistance might come from would place an assailant at a disadvantage while keeping police in the loop, Youngdahl said.
“When (police) roll up to a campus, they need to know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are,” he added.
Youngdahl acknowledged that there were several valid concerns to such a policy, and those questions would need fully-defined answers before implementing it.
The most frequent worry, he said, was the possibility of a staff member losing control of his or her weapon. To address that danger, he proposed using new, patented technology called the Intelligun. An add-on to any M1911 pistol, the Intelligun fits on the grip and locks the firing mechanisms until it reads an authorized user’s fingerprints.
“If the staff member loses control of the gun, it effectively becomes a very expensive paper weight,” Youngdahl said.
Coincidentally, expense was the board’s other major concern. While Youngdahl said the Intelligun add-on would cost the district about $300 per unit plus the cost of the firearm, the full expenses of training staff are still unknown. Trustee Mindy Cameron pointed out there were also several peripheral costs to consider, including the impact to the district’s liability insurance rates. Superintendent Shawn Woodward said the district wouldn’t be dropped outright from their insurance program, but it remained to be seen if rates would increase.
With the subject introduced to the board, trustees said they intend to discuss it through a very considered and public process. Parents and district members are invited to offer their opinions in a public forum scheduled for 6 p.m. Oct. 8 at Kootenai Elementary School.
“We’re going to take a very methodical approach to make the best, most informed decision we can,” Youngdahl said.