Protecting American children from falling victim of another Sandy Hook type tragedy has been a topic of conversation for more than a week, and one New Jersey town is taking the NRA's suggestion to heart.
On Friday, Digital Journal reported National Rifle Association (NRA) executive vice-president, Wayne LaPierre, suggested that armed guards be stationed at every school in the United States. LaPierre even went so far as to blame law makers for the Sandy Hook shooting, saying:
"Politicians pass laws for gun-free school zones. They issue press releases bragging about them. They post signs advertising them. And in so doing, they tell every insane killer in America that schools are their safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk."
LaPierre has been harshly criticized for his comments, with many pointing to the fact there were armed guards on duty at Columbine High School in 1999. Despite the armed guard presence, 13 students were murdered. In a joint statement issued by National Education Association (NEA) President Dennis Van Roekel and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten, both were quick to dismiss LaPierre's idea, saying:
“Guns have no place in our schools. Period. We must do everything we can to reduce the possibility of any gunfire in schools, and concentrate on ways to keep all guns off school property and ensure the safety of children and school employees."
Although Craig Steckler, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, is in favor of placing police officers in schools, he points out that the cost to local governments would be high. Steckler's Fremont, CA. department would lose nearly half of the current patrol force if he placed one officer in every school in the city according to the Wall Street Journal.
Many cities across the country are already faced with budget constraints, with some police departments being forced to lay off officers or institute a hiring freeze, limiting the number of officers available. Faced with taking officers off the street and placing them in schools, departments could see an increase in emergency call response times. Officer safety also becomes an issue, as a limited number of officers makes it more difficult to provide backup on dangerous calls. Fewer officers paroling the streets can also lead to an increase in crimes.
The alternative would be to hire additional officers. However, the prospect of hiring additional officers specifically for schools is simply not in the budget for many local governments. State governments are also facing a budget crunch, so it is unlikely funds could be routed to local police departments. One option would be to increase available funds for the Department of Justice COPS program. However, with many in Washington trying to reduce spending, it may be unlikely Congress would authorize an increase substantial enough to cover placing officers in every school across America.
Two current Tennessee police officers suggested one way cities could pay for additional officers in schools, with one telling Digital Journal:
"The NRA spends millions of dollars each year lobbying in Washington. Cut that spending and issue grants to local police departments so additional officers can be hired for school patrol."
The other officer said:
"I am an NRA member, but turning schools into an armed camp is not the answer. But if they want to give grants to departments so we can have enough manpower to place an officer in each school, fine. If they are willing to pay for it, I won't complain, but if they expect cities to pay for it, they have no concept of reality or the resource limits most departments face. And if they think placing some private armed security guard in schools is the answer, they are crazy."
One city has decided to follow the NRA's advise however. New Jersey's Marlboro Township has decided to place one armed police officer at each of the town's schools beginning January 2, 2013. The towns mayor, Johnathon Hornik, told NBC New York:
"Just like what happened on 9/11-- air travel changed," he said. "In my opinion last Friday, school security changed, and you can sit by and hope that it doesn't happen at your school or you can take action. This is not such a major change-- we're not putting in SWAT teams."
New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie, is not fond of the idea however, telling the Associated Press:
"You can't make this (school) an armed camp for kids."
One Marlboro parent, Doreen Coluccio, is okay with the idea however, telling NBC:
"To one extent I think it's a knee-jerk reaction. But I also think that they're just trying to look out for the welfare of the kids."