Yesterday the USCCA hosted a forum at Kettle Moraine Lutheran High School regarding the prospect of allowing people to carry firearms in private schools. It was an exceedingly interesting discussion that covered a lot of angles.
The impetus for the forum is that Representative Jesse Kremer (R-Kewaskum) will be reintroducing a bill next session to allow private schools to permit firearms in their schools. The panel was moderated by Katrina Cravy, former TV reporter. On the panel were KML Superintendent David Bartelt, teacher Michael Maas, Grafton Police Sargent Sean Fuerstenberg, Washington County Sheriff Dale Schmidt, USCCA firearms trainer Kevin Michalowski, Delta Defense Director of Marketing Matt Fehlhaber, parent Laura Ganshow, and parent Scott Scriver.
The subject of the forum was specific to allowing firearms into private schools, but the subject of public schools was also addressed. According to Kremer, a companion bill for public schools will likely be offered at the same time as the one for private schools. The reason for separating them is primarily political. There is fairly broad support for allowing private schools to do this, but the public schools have a well-funded and organized opposition in the form of the unions that will oppose Republican bills just because they are written by Republicans. The Republicans in the legislature want to make progress on this issue. Hopefully they will be able to pass both bills, but even if they only pass the one for private schools, it is progress. The issues facing private and public schools are largely the same, however, so the discussion was apropos to both.
The forum was mostly driven by audience questions with people coming up to the microphones to make statements and ask questions. The discussion can be broken down into three major sections. Bear in mind that any of these issues would only be applicable if an individual school decides to permit firearms on campus.
First, there is the issue of allowing CCW on campuses. Federal law does not prohibit this, but state law does. As the law is now, a licensed concealed carry holder commits a crime to even carry their weapon in their cars onto campus – much less into the buildings. Interestingly, this subject area was probably discussed the least. There was broad agreement that the law needs to be corrected to allow licensed CCW parents to carry on campuses. One former and one current police officer even commented that is is more dangerous to have people unholster their weapons to store them rather than just letting them carry as usual. Most accidental discharges happen during the administrative handling of a weapon – not when holstered or in active use. Also discussed was the fact that several other states already allow schools to decide whether or not to allow firearms on campus and those states haven’t had any negative consequences.
The second section was a lively discussion around allowing trained teachers and staff members to be armed. Michael Maas, one of the teachers on the panel, said that when they do a lock down drill, he arms himself with a baseball bat because that is all he is allowed to do. He lamented the fact that he is charged with protecting his students as if they were his own kids and he did not think he could adequately do that with a bat.
The discussion ranged from what kind of training could and would be given to teachers who chose to arm themselves and what the mechanics of an armed classroom would look like. For example, there are very good biometric gun safes that could be bolted into a desk drawer so that a teacher would not have to wear a firearm the entire time. One parent stood up and said that he hated the fact that his kids were not as safe as they could be because Wisconsin mandates that schools remain soft targets. Someone mentioned that police response was great, but never good enough. The statistics of school shooting show that most of the killings happened within the first 10 minutes. Sheriff Schmidt shared that even when the police can be on site within a few minutes, they still have a large building with multiple entrances, hundreds of people, and an unknown threat to contend with. He said that the reality is that the most effective protection must come from within the school.
The third main topic discussion revolved around how schools respond to threats in general and how that response has, and should, evolve. Right now, the prevailing threat response is the lock down. Everything is locked and kids are instructed to stay still and hide. A few schools are starting to use a technique that instructs kids to scatter and run from the school. The good part of that is that it disperses the target opportunities for the killer, but the bad part is that it is difficult to manage everyone and ensure they are safe.
Some people advocated using the Department of Homeland Security’s “Run, Hide, Fight” protocol in schools. Instead of just hiding, staff and kids would be taught to still hunker down in their rooms, but to spread out and arm themselves with whatever is available like books, chairs, whatever, to throw at the killer if they enter the room. Also discussed was ALICE, another active shooter response methodology. There was broad agreement that the simple lock down was not sufficient. Some folks cited the fact that in some cases, all the lock down did was provide a convenient place for the killer to find a lot of people to kill at once.
Also interesting was how school responses have changed over the years and some of the challenges that schools face. For example, in the past, the students and staff were instructed on where to go in an active shooter event just like a fire drill and were issued cryptic, coded messages over the P.A. to tell them what to do. This makes sense if the killer is from outside of the school, but no sense at all if the killer is one of the students who would know the response. That methodology serves to tell student killer exactly where to go find everyone in one place after the attack starts and the killer knows the “code” used over the P.A. The updated methodology is to instruct staff on what to do, but not tell students unless it happens. Also, instructions on the P.A. are to be clear and precise like, “the shooter is in the cafeteria.”
They also discussed how the physical layout of a school greatly impacts the effectiveness of a response. For example, one audience member said that his kids used to go to an open concept school that did not have doors. He told his kids to leave the building and run into the nearby woods if something happened. A teacher said that his school had solid doors and had installed special locks that that shove a steel bar into the floor and can only be unlocked from the outside with a special tool. In some schools, the only way for people to leave the building would be to go through the halls, which might be a bad idea with an active shooter. Some schools have gates than can be easily deployed to block off entire hallways. Essentially, the consensus was that a school’s specific response should be tailored to the specific school, but that a more active response than a simple lock down was required. As one person said, a kids hasn’t died in a school fire in 50 years, but we still have monthly fire drills and teach stop, drop, and roll. We should spend at least as much time and effort teaching kids how to respond to an active shooter threat.
Overall, it was a very good forum that provided a ton of information. I look forward to more sensible laws regarding firearms in schools.