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OUR VIEW: Reluctance to arm staff at schools is hopeful sign

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opinion Mitchell, 57301
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

On the topic of arming school staff on the job -- from Newtown, Connecticut, to Mitchell, South Dakota -- there appears to be a striking abundance of caution. And we believe that is a very good thing.

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What gives us hope is that this strong, broad reluctance to having school employees carry guns on campus exists today despite the devastating tragedy at Newtown's Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 12, 2012, little more than eight months ago, when a disturbed young man shot dead 20 children and six faculty and staff before killing himself.

That catastrophe was so extreme and unfathomable, and the evil so absolute, that it posed an existential threat to the way people felt -- had always felt -- about their own safety and, more to the point, that of their children. We, too, are parents, and we, too, were rocked to the core by this horrific crime that seemed to cry out: "No one is safe. Anywhere."

Yet, whereas our first impulse may have been to arm our schools with the most effective weapons we could lay our hands on, even semi-automatic rifles like the type Adam Lanza used to spray death on Sandy Hook Elementary, we didn't. Apparently, throughout the country, after we raged against and then mourned the terrible loss of so much innocence and heroism, we thought deeply, and rationally, about our future security. And most people came to the conclusion that bringing more guns into our schools was not the answer.

We are heartened by this, because giving guns to educators to ostensibly protect their students is, at best, a double-edged sword, and, at worst, another disaster waiting to happen. It shows enormous common sense to focus on the realities of such a decision rather than succumb to the deep terrors that these thankfully rare school shootings unleash.

One dose of reality is liability. The largest school insurer in Kansas, a state which has approved the use of armed school "sentinels," says it won't insure sentinel schools. And firearms training is far from the same thing as law-enforcement certification in terms of reliable effectiveness. Add to this that the vast majority of teachers passionately want to be armed only with the tools of learning, not mayhem.

Only seven states, including ours, have OK'd so-called sentinel laws, but even schools in those states have been extremely reluctant to implement, choosing instead to significantly upgrade physical security systems and to continue using only armed law-enforcement personnel as school "resource officers" under existing laws, as they have for years. Only one in 40 Mitchell area schools -- a local Christian school, ironically -- is even considering a sentinel program, according to a survey by The Daily Republic.

Except perhaps for remote schools with no law enforcement nearby, we second the majority approach.

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