Today marks the one-year anniversary since a man murdered his mother, stole her gun and her car, then drove to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
There he broke a window through which he entered the school, murdered several administrators then walked down the hallway and shot teachers before killing a classroom full of children. All told, he killed 27 people before committing suicide.
Buckeye Firearms Foundation recently surveyed school employees to find out what has changed in the year since the Newtown killings. The information below is from slightly more than 300 responses taken from school teachers, administrators, and other employees who signed up to be trained to carry firearms in schools.
There are at least 20 different school districts in Ohio that have authorized individuals to carry firearms in schools. The list includes rural, urban and suburban schools. It includes public, private and parochial schools. It covers small, medium and large schools and all grade levels. Those authorized include teachers, administrators and others. In short, it is a cross section of Ohio, and the United States of America.
Some of these districts took quick action and had authorized people carrying soon after the Sandy Hook killings. Others waited until the start of the current school year. Many are considering expanding their program to include more people as they realize there is great upside potential and almost no downside issues with authorizing good people to carry the tools necessary to stop an active killer.
One third of respondents indicated they had armed persons in their schools at least some of the time. Most of those are School Resource Officers (SRO) who are law enforcement officers with additional training to deal with school violence. Most SROs are assigned to a specific school, but many split their time between multiple schools.
About 20 percent of respondents said their school is frequented by uniformed police officers. Others are visited by plain clothes officers or have space available as a remote office for police in their school. Anytime police are present in the building, kids are safer.
Of those schools without an SRO, 60 percent of respondents said they never had one, while 12 percent indicated they used to have one, but they were let go because of budget issues. Only 2 percent indicated they are planning to hire an SRO.
"While 20 districts may not seem like an overwhelming number, it's important to note that this is not an exhaustive list. We know of districts that authorized people to carry many months ago, but didn't participate in our survey. So that's not counted in the 20 districts," said Jim Irvine, Chairman of Buckeye Firearms Foundation.
"Additionally more respondents answered that they expect to be authorized to carry firearms in the next year than answered that they were already authorized," Irvine said. "Our conversations with districts indicate that many have shifted their thinking from 'Should we authorize carry?' to 'How should we authorize carry?' Fifty-three percent of respondents indicated they would like to have permission to carry a gun, but have not discussed it with their school board."
When asked who should be permitted to carry guns in schools, only 1% answered that "only law enforcement" should have access to guns. 20% indicated that anyone with a concealed handgun license should be permitted to carry in schools. That has been the law in Utah for about 10 years.
Twenty-nine percent indicated that anyone who can pass the same shooting qualification as police should be able to carry, and 49% indicated that those authorized by the school board should be permitted to carry. Only one response indicated that no one should be able to have guns in schools.
When asked "In your opinion, what do parents think about having armed security?," 61 percent indicated they had not had enough conversations to provide a good answer. Of those who had discussions, slightly over half indicated parents support armed security, and most of the rest thought parents were fairly evenly split on the topic. Only 7 percent thought parents oppose armed security in schools. Many district surveys over the past year have found similar results.
"There is unanimous agreement that we need to keep our kids safe in schools," Irvine said. "While there is broad support for authorizing people to carry firearms in schools, there is a vocal minority who are strongly opposed. Those opposed come up with hypothetical situations that, while possible, are incredibly unlikely and have never materialized elsewhere in the US.
"Why would Ohio be any different? Their worst case scenario pales in comparison to the reality of Columbine, Virginia Tech, or Newtown. What is even more frustrating is that they offer no alternative solutions with a realistic chance of stopping a killer inside the building. Maybe that is because there is no other workable alternative for this problem."
The fact remains that the only reliable way to end a mass shooting is resistance with enough force to stop the killer. Most of the time that response comes from civilians, not law enforcement. An armed response is safer and quicker than an unarmed response when facing an armed adversary. A response from within a building will be quicker than a response from outside the building.
Time is the most critical element of the response and ability to limit the death toll, gun supporters say. Many districts have studied the facts and realized that authorizing the good people who are already in their school to carry firearms is the best return on their investment for school safety and security.
Many other schools are realizing that this is no longer just a fringe idea. There is comfort in numbers. As more districts authorize individuals to carry firearms, neighboring districts are finding it more comfortable to follow that trend.
Irvine said guns are simply a safety tool. "There will come a time when the number of schools with armed persons is equal to the number of schools with fire extinguishers. It's not about guns anymore than it's about fire extinguishers. It's about safety. It is understandable that most schools didn't want to be the first to authorize people to carry guns. It will be far worse for those forced to defend why they were last."