Local leaders react to NRA’s call for armed guards in schools
In August 2006, Alvaro Castillo murdered his father before driving to Orange High School with a cache of weapons and shooting two students.
Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy London Ivey, the school resource officer on duty that day, drew his weapon on Castillo before the shooter was tackled to the ground by Russ LeBlanc, a former state trooper who taught driver’s education.
Arguably, the presence of an armed law enforcement officer prevented more serious injuries and lost lives.
On Friday, Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, called for armed guards in every school in the United States.
“I call on Congress today to act immediately, to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every school – and to do it now, to make sure that blanket of safety is in place when our children return to school in January,” LaPierre said.
He also condemned violent video games such as Cary-based Epic Games’ Bulletstorm and movies such as “Natural Born Killers” and “American Psycho” for inspiring criminal acts like the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut last week.
“Isn’t fantasizing about killing people as a way to get your kicks really the filthiest form of pornography?” LaPierre said.
Most, if not all, public high schools in North Carolina have armed school resource officers. About half the state’s middle schools have them. They’re a rarity in elementary schools.
Attorney General Roy Cooper doesn’t disagree with the spirit of LaPierre’s call to action.
Cooper “supports school resource officers, trained law enforcement officers who provide comprehensive help to students, teachers and staff, including providing protection, and he believes that schools need more SROs,” said Noelle Talley, public information officer for the North Carolina Department of Justice.
She cited a 2006 report from Cooper to then-Gov. Mike Easley titled “Keeping North Carolina Schools Safe & Secure,” in which Cooper recommended expansion of the SRO program.
“Due to the demonstrated success of the SRO program, the State should increase the number of SROs in high school and middle school with a goal of providing one SRO per 1,000 students,” Cooper stated in the report.
The most recent North Carolina SRO census report, for 2008-9, showed that the state had 849 SROs in 98 out of 100 counties, most of them armed with pepper spray or a taser or both. Some, like the deputy at Orange High in 2006, also have a handgun.
Heidi Carter, chair of the Durham Public Schools Board of Education, on Friday expressed reservations about LaPierre’s plan.
“I have serious concerns about the NRA’s recommendation for armed guards in every school,” she said. “I think the potential harms and costs of such an approach would outweigh the possible benefits. We already have school resource officers in all middle and high schools, and while these officers help with school security, some community members are concerned that police presence in schools tends to criminalize student behaviors that otherwise might have been handled in the principal’s office.”
Carter would prefer a preventive approach that deals with unfettered access to guns and inadequate access to mental health services.
“I support measures that would make it easier to get mental and behavioral health services than to obtain a gun, including legislation that bans assault weapons and stops people from purchasing firearms from private sellers without a background check,” she said.
Tom Forcella, superintendent of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, declined comment on LaPierre’s remarks.
It may be worth noting that armed police can’t guarantee every school’s safety. Columbine High School had two armed officers on site when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold launched their 1999 attack that left 15 dead and 23 wounded.
Josh Sugarmann, executive director of the Violence Policy Center and a native of Newtown, said in a statement Friday: “They twice engaged and fired at Eric Harris in an effort to stop the shooting, but were unsuccessful because they were outgunned by the assault weapons wielded by the two teens.”
It’s no use trying to blame the Newtown shooting on violent entertainment, said Susan Arendt. She’s editor-in-chief of The Escapist, a Durham-based online magazine site (escapistmagazine.com) that’s devoted to video games.
While it is true that playing violent video games can indicate violent tendencies, she said, they can also provide a healthy outlet for venting stress.
“There is no one-size-fits-all-truth about why someone is driven to commit an act of violence like the one in Newtown,” Arendt said. “Some people who do terrible things also play video games – but millions of people play games every day – yes, even violent games – and lead perfectly normal, positive, productive lives.”
Seeking one thing to blame might be natural, but futile, she said.
“It would be great if we could point to one single thing that caused this event, because then we would know what to stop. What to ban. What law to pass,” she said. “We’d have an easy answer to the question ‘How do we stop this from happening again?’ But there is no one single thing that caused this tragedy. There never is.”
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