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Leave school security to professionals

Johnson City Press • Mar 1, 2018 at 8:30 AM

Anyone who claims to have a ready solution to America’s epidemic of gun violence is dreaming, purposefully bloviated or both. No challenge facing this country is more complex, more divisive or more demanding. Not health care reform. Not opioids. Not immigration.

Americans suffer from a puppy-like condition when it comes to headlines. After every mass shooting, the gun debate rears its head, only to fade from attention again when another scent drifts by, be it Confederate monuments, the National Anthem or Melania Trump’s shoes.

In the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida, slayings, however, young people are finally voicing their concerns about bloodshed that has taken the lives of far too many of their peers. Regardless of whether you agree with gun controls many have advocated, it’s clearly a pivotal development that those most vulnerable are involving themselves.

We would hope our politicians take them seriously, but chances are slim in this divisive climate dominated by special interests. Chest-thumping in Washington, as well Nashville and other state capitals, is not helping. The left screams for sweeping restrictions. The right screams for more guns. Blusterous posturing pervades. Meanwhile, bodies mount.

Curbing gun violence will require a massive cultural overhaul in this nation, one that no longer accepts mass casualties as collateral damage in the name of freedom. Second Amendment rights must be definitively protected within reason, but real conversations must include numerous factors. Not the least of those are access to military-grade weapons, mental health counseling, background checks, potential offender tracking, security and bullying. Social media has played no small part in the escalation and frequency of school violence, as students face increasing social pressures from internet cruelty, but remember, the Columbine massacre happened in 1999, well before Facebook existed.

We can imagine any number of scenarios that might contribute to better safety in schools. Turning them into armed encampments is not among them. Arming teachers and staff would only exacerbate the danger, and children could be caught in the crossfire. Many teachers and parents justifiably fear how such weapons might be used in the classroom, accidentally or with purpose. Simply put, school security should be in the hands of professionals, not home economics teachers, cafeteria workers and track coaches.

We have seen one reasonable step discussed in Tennessee, though. On Wednesday, state Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, and Rep. Antonia Parkinson, D-Memphis, unveiled the School Safety Act of 2018, which would provide state funding for off-duty law enforcement officers to work in public schools on a volunteer basis. Two officers would be allocated per school in addition to any school resource officers already employed there. We consider the proposal a fine first step, but we’d prefer more state funding for additional full-time police presence in schools.

Parents often bristle at adding metal detectors to school entrances because of the prison-like perception, but given the dozens of deadly incidents at schools — not to mention Virginia Tech, Las Vegas, Miami and other mass slayings — in the decades since Columbine, it’s time to reconsider.

Bolstered school security will come with a hefty price tag, but our kids’ lives are in the balance.

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