A small rural Colorado school district elected to allow teachers and staff members to carry guns on campus on Wednesday evening. The decision came on the fourth anniversary of the Sandy Hook school shooting which claimed the lives of 20 children and six adult staff members, inspiring a wave of proposals to allow weapons in schools.
The Hanover School District 28 board in El Paso County voted 3-2 in favor of the policy.
Those who volunteer to carry a concealed handgun on the campus of Prairie Heights Elementary School or Hanover Jr./Sr. High School must apply to do so and will first receive training.
“There is a desire for a perceived increase in security within the building,” board president Mark McPherson, who voted against the measure, told KRDO.
The district joins a growing yet still relatively small number of districts across the country that have adopted similar policies, sparked by fear of school shootings, such as those that occurred at Sandy Hook in Connecticut and Columbine High School in Colorado on April 20, 1999.
Some in rural districts, like Hanover, are particularly concerned by the distances police must travel to reach them in the event of trouble. According to KOAA TV, the average response time by the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office is 35 minutes.
Yet the community was split down the middle on the wisdom arming faculty and staff. A school board survey of students, staff, parents and members of the community found 126 in favor of arming and 123 opposed. The greatest opposition came from students, who voted 62 to 55 against.
As stated in the resolution, it was enacted “in light of the recent incidents nationally, the Board of Education of the District has determined that it is in the best interest of the District, and necessary for the safety and well-being of its students and employees, to provide security personnel within the District to intervene if deadly violence occurs or is threatened.”
“It’s a matter of let’s be proactive, let’s look at what our society has become, school shootings have become a norm, we hear about these school shootings everyday,” Hanover parent Terry Siewiyumptewa told the station.
A more specific reason for Hanover, though, is the prevalence of marijuana-growing operations in the area, which some claim are being run by cartels. The drug was legalized in the state in 2012, though the amendment only passed in El Paso County by a mere 10 votes out of 283,382 cast.
School board member Michael Lawson, a volunteer firefighter and firearms instructor, raised the issue at a November board meeting, saying that several cultivation operations recently sprang up on the rural eastern plains of the county, the Colorado Springs Gazette reported.
“There are three [growing operations] within 2 miles of the school,” Lawson told the newspaper. “The Cuban and Colombian cartels are buying up land to grow marijuana in Colorado. We need to look at the safety of the schools and the kids.”
On Wednesday, though, McPherson said he only knows of one such operation within five miles of the schools, and he considers the cartel connection to be rumors,” the Associated Press reported.
He also expressed displeasure at the outcome of the vote.
“I would have preferred it to go the other way because I believe that arming staff is not appropriate in our district but now that that has happened, we’ve got to come together as a group and focus at the task at hand,” McPherson told KOAA. “We voted as a board and now collectively as a board we will begin the work of putting that plan together.”
“Our rooms are supposed to be locked and secure. We have cameras. We have a very vigilant staff,” he said. “We are authorizing teachers to pull a weapon and kill a human being, and I cannot support that,” he said.
He’s not the only one. Seventh-grader Jiorgianna McMurtry recently took a survey of students asking if staff at her school should be armed, on which she voted no.
“Some teachers I’m OK with; other teachers I’m not really sure they should have guns,” she told the Colorado Springs Gazette. “Some teachers have anger issues.”
In April, Kingsburg Joint Union High School District, north of Los Angeles, voted to allow its teachers to arm themselves along with districts in Oklahoma, Ohio and Utah, among other states.
Some schools have taken things further. The Medina Independent School District in Texas, for example, attracted attention when it posted a sign outside one of its schools in September warning visitors: “Please be aware that Medina ISD may be armed and will use whatever force is necessary to protect our students.”
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