By CLARK MASON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Putting armed guards in schools to deter violence is not something local educators, parents and even law enforcement see as viable.
The National Rifle Association’s suggestion Friday that armed guards should be placed at every school to protect children from mass shootings was quickly dismissed as counter-productive, costly and probably unnecessary.
“Schools are safe havens and while you may have some horrible things happen in isolated incidents, by and large our schools are very safe,” said Windsor Schools Superintendent Tammy Gabel, echoing the sentiments of other educators interviewed Friday.
“Everyone agrees our schools, movie theaters, shopping malls, streets and communities need to be safer. But we need a comprehensive approach, and the NRA proposal needs to go beyond just arming more people with more guns to make this happen,” Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, said Friday in a post on his Facebook page.
Thompson, who is heading a congressional task force on gun violence, called for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. The solution, he said, must also involve improving background checks on people buying firearms, enhancing mental health services and “addressing our culture’s glorification of violence.”
Attorney General Kamala Harris decried “reckless calls to saturate our schools with guns” instead of efforts to remove guns from the hands of dangerous people.
California Senate leader Darrel Steinberg called the NRA’s proposal to “militarize” schools “profitable fear mongering.”
“What’s next? Armed guards at Starbucks and Little League games? This is completely the wrong direction,” Steinberg said in a statement.
Santa Rosa Police Chief Tom Schwedhelm also said there needs to be a different approach to the problem.
“If you’re looking for an easy fix, like putting armed guards in school, I don’t think that’s the answer,” he said.
Schwedhelm said he agrees with proposals for reducing gun violence that include reinstating a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity bullet magazines, as well as closing loopholes at gun shows.
The police chief said gun violence is a complex problem that requires a “holistic approach” to address a range of societal problems, including the need for more preventative mental health programs.
“There’s no magic bullets out there,” he said.
Sara Nerius, PTA president at Santa Rosa’s Proctor Terrace School, also disagreed with the NRA proposal.
“I don’t personally feel that the answer is to have people with guns inside the school — that fighting guns with guns will make things any better,” she said.
The mother of a kindergarten student and a fourth-grader, Nerius emphasized she was speaking for herself and not the PTA.
“What kind of message is that sending to kids who are supposed to feel safe going to school, if there are people there with guns? How does it make them feel even if they are there to protect them?”
Steve Herrington, Sonoma County superintendent of schools, said schools should be safe havens for teachers and students, but armed guards are not the answer.
“I think the use of any type of police or military presence is counter-productive to the purpose of education. It’s the antithesis to what I believe in,” he said.
Herrington, like other school officials, makes an exception for programs with police officers that come on campuses and interact with students.
Santa Rosa Police, for example, have five “school resource officers” assigned to all the high schools and feeder middle schools. They interact with students and also deal with illegal student behavior.
“I would prefer that versus armed guards at schools,” Herrington said.
Overall, he favors a different approach to reducing gun violence, including an assault weapons ban and more mental health care programs available to families.
Windsor Schools superintendent Gabel agreed more emphasis needs to be placed on mental health treatment.
“De-stigmatizing mental health issues will go a lot further to creating safer schools,” she said.
But with armed guards, “If you aren’t careful, you create a culture of fear, instead of a culture of trust,” she said.
Jenni Klose, Santa Rosa school board member, agreed.
“As tragic as these school shootings are and they’re awful … they’re extremely rare,” she said.
She said adding a full-time officer to each of the more than 200 public school campuses in Sonoma County would be costly at a time schools are wrestling with budget issues.
“I don’t know any evidence it keeps kids safer, and there is evidence to show it creates an uncomfortable environment,” she said.
She noted that there was an armed guard at Columbine High School, but that failed to prevent the notorious 1999 mass murder of students.
She said the presence of armed guards on campus actually make children feel less safe.
Bill Carle, president of the Santa Rosa School Board, said “the concept of ramping up the stress level of the learning environment and basically throwing in the face of every student, every day — that there is a risk and there needs to be a gun on the campus — completely takes away from the kind of environment you want at a school.”
And he said it won’t get at the root of the problem, such as avoiding shootings in shopping malls, movie theaters and even in church.
Carle predicted the idea of widespread use of armed school guards is not going to go far.
“I don’t see a clamor for that from our community,” he said. “And I see way too many downsides.”