Every morning when I drop my youngest son off at his elementary school I notice the yellow sign on the fence:
"GUN FREE ZONE."
It seems more ridiculous every time I see it.
That's not to say I don't appreciate the sentiment behind it; of course I want my kids' schools to be gun-free zones. But while the sign might compel moms and dads who usually carry a gun to leave it at home, what impact does the sign have on someone bent on doing harm?
To the person who wants to shoot up a school, the sign is both laughable and an advertisement; save the lone school resource officer, no one will oppose him.
Ultimately, then, the sign amounts to what has been termed "security theater" — measures designed to make kids, parents and school personnel feel safer, but which don't actually make them safer.
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Thankfully, other changes are in full swing that do "harden" school targets.
As Treasure Coast Newspapers reported last week, the Indian River, St. Lucie and Martin County school districts have all taken "giant steps" to improve school safety. In response to new state laws, the number of armed school resources officers is now twice what it was before the shooting in Parkland, Florida. School officials have scrutinized campus safety measures, making sure fences are high enough and resolving to lock more doors and create a single point of entry at all schools.
Schools across the region have also hired more social service and mental health specialists; and law enforcement now treats any incident that could even remotely be perceived as a threat with the utmost seriousness.
All this will make our schools safer.
Is it, however, the most we can do?
It might be the most we can afford. As detailed in our story, school security spending has ballooned as these new measures were implemented; the legislature budgeted $165 million to cover new school security costs, but it wasn't nearly enough. School districts and law enforcement agencies have scrambled to figure out who pays for what; ultimately taxpayers foot the bill for all of it.
Meanwhile, another potential measure continues to be ignored, at least here on the Treasure Coast. It comes loaded with more baggage than a freight train.
But in fact, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, which released its sweeping report in early January, specifically recommended arming teachers and other school personnel as a way of boosting school safety.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who chaired the commission, said he previously opposed the idea but changed his mind after serving on the panel. "So what are we saying to people — we're not going to allow you to defend yourself, we're not going to allow you to defend the kids — why? Because of some ideology that we don't like guns?" Gualtieri said.
It's all we have until backup arrives
The Coach Aaron Feis School Guardian Program permits school employees who aren't teachers to carry concealed weapons on campus. None of the Treasure Coast school districts participates in the program; our local school chiefs and local sheriffs, no doubt reflecting the view of a large number of area residents, oppose it.
But here's what I think when I drop my son off at his elementary school, where one armed school resource officer stands guard: It's a big campus. Hundreds of kids. Should something happen, God forbid, the SRO might be at one end of the campus while the shooting begins at another.
And he's all we have until backup arrives.
I guess people fear that if we arm teachers, people who don't know their way around a gun will be packing, or that the armed personnel will be reckless, whipping out the weapon on a whim.
Or perhaps it's just that people don't want their children to be around guns. Then again, a few years back I did a column on how one in seven Martin County adults has a concealed weapons permit.
Which means: You don't want your kid to be around guns, but anywhere you go where there's a crowd — the mall, an outdoor concert — you're around guns. You just don't realize it.
Would it really be different in the schools?
I understand the trepidation; I want my kids' schools to be "gun-free zones," as the sign says. I want to think this — and the other measures taken in the year since Parkland — will be enough.
With luck — we'll never have to find out it wasn't.
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This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: A year after Parkland school shooting, should we be arming teachers already?