County’s GOP calls for arming school staff

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SANDPOINT — When it comes to school safety, local Republicans are endorsing the idea that a gun in the right hands can save lives.

Bonner County Republican Central Committee voting members unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday night that urges Bonner County school board members to train and arm employees of each school in the manner they see fit. The resolution comes as a response to the tragic Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut that left 28 dead, including 20 young children.  

Danielle Ahrens, the resolution’s primary author, said she believes that if an individual at Sandy Hook had been armed, the death toll would have been greatly reduced.

As a mother with children in the school system, she decided to craft a resolution to address her concerns.

“The fact is that bad people are going to be armed, and I want someone at schools who is equally or better-armed to protect our kids,” she said.

Aware of the discussions sparked across the country about differing approaches to gun control and school safety, Ahrens cited different occasions where guns helped stop mass shootings. The shooter at Clackamas Mall this month may have chosen to end his assault and his life when confronted by an individual with a concealed gun. Incidents in Pearl, Miss., and the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Va., may have also been mitigated by individuals with guns.   

Ahrens said the Bonner County Republican Central Committee proposes that select employees undergo all necessary training courses and licensing procedures to become proficient in the use of such weaponry.

The resolution finds its legal backing from Idaho statute 18-3302 (D) (4) (f), which states under the prohibition of firearms from school property that “a person or an employee of the school or school district who is authorized to carry a firearm with the permission of the board of trustees” is exempt from the law.

Beyond the call to local school districts, the resolution also encourages Idaho Superintendent Tom Luna to “proactively inform and educate every educational institution in Idaho as to its constitutional authority” to use firearms as a security resource.

Indeed, members of the Bonner County Republican Central Committee intend to make their case on a statewide level at an Idaho Republican convention over the first weekend of January. According to Ahrens, Bonner County Republicans may be the first to make such a proposal, but it’s already spreading to other areas of the state.

“I now know that there are several school districts around Boise looking at this,” she said.

According to Corey Coon, Sandpoint interim police chief, the prospect of arming district employees isn’t completely unprecedented. He read about school districts in Texas who allow teachers the option of carrying a weapon provided they undergo extensive training and psychological evaluation.

When it comes to local implementation of firearms on school grounds, Sandpoint High School has had a resource officer on for several years. However, Coon said there was a big difference between having an officer on site and arming school staff. Beyond the differing requirements in training and testing, there’s also the issue of liability. If the district made an arrangement with local law enforcement or a security company, the contracted entity would be liable if something went wrong. However, if something were to go wrong involving a school employee’s firearm, the district could face serious consequences.

“I think the major thing is that we look at what we can do right now and take care of those things,” Coon said.

Those measures are already under way. While school officials wouldn’t comment directly on the possibility of guns in the classroom until they had time to investigate the issue, they did say that school security is a top priority.

Lake Pend Oreille School District Superintendent Shawn Woodward said that school staff are taking a close look at security measures in response to Sandy Hook.

“It’s really important that we be thoughtful and rational when it comes to moving forward on this,” Woodward said, adding that any major changes would be accompanied by an extensive public involvement process.

Under evaluation are the schools’ lockdown procedures, which are being tweaked to maximize effectiveness.

Furthermore, the school board will be examining a variety of new approaches to school security at an upcoming meeting scheduled for Jan. 8.

“We’ll have more to say about this after a district-wide evaluation,” board chair Steve Youngdahl said, later adding, “We value input from all of our stakeholders and community members.” 

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