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Karla's Kolumn: To arm or not to arm

As the country debates whether to arm teachers and school staff to try and prevent mass school shootings, many districts around the state have already moved in that direction thanks to a law passed last year by the Wyoming State Legislature.


March 3, 2018

As the country debates whether to arm teachers and school staff to try and prevent mass school shootings, many districts around the state have already moved in that direction thanks to a law passed last year by the Wyoming State Legislature.

In the Big Horn Basin, Cody, Powell, Greybull and Ten Sleep are exploring options with Ten Sleep might have its policy before the board on first reading at the March 12 meeting. Big Horn County School Districts 1, 2 and 4, are not currently exploring anything. Around the state, Evanston, Gillette and Lander are exploring the option.

In Park County, Park County School District No. 16 Superintendent Shane Ogden said the district in Meeteetse is looking at their overall safety protocol and allowing staff to be armed may become part of that at some point but they are not currently exploring it. He said they want to wait and see how Cody, Powell, Ten Sleep and other districts handle it and what policies they come up with before going forward.

Ogden said Meeteetse would be fairly similar to Ten Sleep — a school community with no immediate law enforcement presence.

When the law passed last year it was communities such as Ten Sleep, Meeteetse and Burlington that Sen. Wyatt Agar mentioned in his support of the legislation. These are communities where law enforcement response is not immediate.

Washakie County Sheriff Steve Rakness told the Ten Sleep district that response could be about 20 minutes if there was an incident at the school.

The school shooting in Parkland, Florida, lasted six minutes, left 17 dead and more wounded. Twenty minutes is too long.

There’s not a lot of options for rural school districts, so to me, it makes sense for a community like Ten Sleep to consider it. And, during a public meeting, while there were questions and some concerns about certain aspects of the policy, no one seemed opposed to the idea.

A survey of Ten Sleep staff members showed three members who were willing to be armed at school and at least eight others who might consider it. To have willing staff members to arm themselves to protect students is admirable but having teachers and staff members willing to protect students is not unheard of, especially with the mass shootings.

At nearly every recent school shooting there have been stories about staff members shielding students and putting themselves in front of the flying bullets. So staff members are willing to put their lives on the line to protect students. With Wyoming’s law, if school districts, and subsequently staff members so choose, they can be more than just a shield.

Why has there not been a major outcry against arming school staff in Wyoming like there are in other parts of the country? In my humble opinion it is because most of us in Wyoming grew up with firearms in the house, we were taught a respect for the firearms and taught how to shoot them at a young age. I, and many others were taught, you never point a gun at anything you don’t intend to kill. Never as a joke, not for a selfie, not for showing off, not ever.

Many of us are hunters and have hunting rifles and other firearms for personal protection. We know how to use them. We know what a firearm can do, and we also have respect for our fellow man.

As long as proper training is provided, and the staff members are provided psychological evaluation and counseling, I’m not opposed to having staff members armed at a school.

But arming staff members cannot and should not be the only answer.

While Worland schools are not looking into arming staff, with quick-responding local police department and a school resource officer, they are looking into new door jams that make it harder for a shooter to get into locked rooms. They are also increasing and upgrading the number of cameras in and around each school.

Whether it is arming staff or taking other actions, schools around the Big Horn Basin and the country are looking at ways to keep our students safe.

Whether you are in favor of guns or not, or arming school staff or not, we all agree we want to protect our youth. While a lot of those measures are great, they are meant to protect students once a killer is on school grounds.

In addition to working on keeping students safe in the event of an active shooter/killer, we must continue to strive to find ways of preventing students and adults from getting to the point in their life they think or feel that violence is the only answer they have left.

While yes, it is important to protect our students from a shooter/killer, it is more important we work to make sure the killer never gets to the school.

There are many ideas being discussed, expanded background checks, better or more mental health programs.

One tool that has been used here in Washakie County is the app Safe2Tell. In October law enforcement was notified of a potential threat to the schools via a message received from Safe2Tell. School officials have reported that Safe2Tell has been used to report students who are having trouble or having suicidal thoughts. That program is working to help our students.

It’s just one tool and we need many.

We all need to be open to looking at every avenue to protect our youth and to help youth who may become the next school shooter/killer.


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