What’s the best way to stop a school shooter?
Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel said it might help if school districts could arm teachers.
“When you make a school a gun-free school zone, the only person that you’re stopping is the law-abiding gun owner that doesn’t want to get in trouble,” Schimel said in a recent interview with Milwaukee’s WTMJ radio.
Schimel suggested that school districts should have the option of arming teachers, and he said his office would provide gun training to school staff if lawmakers would allow it.
Schimel’s comments came almost a week after 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Nikolas Cruz, 19, is accused of the killings, and federal authorities said Cruz legally bought the AR-15 rifle he is accused of using.
The Gazette asked a handful of Janesville School Board members and safety experts what they thought about Schimel’s suggestion and about overall school safety in Janesville.
Brian Donohoue is a former Janesville police officer working part time as the school district’s police liaison.
“I would be opposed to it,” Donohoue said. “And I don’t think you’d see a lot of support from teachers.”
His objections range from concerns about training to accidents that can happen even to seasoned professionals. While working at the police department, Donohoue dealt with a handful of accidental discharges from officers’ weapons. He said it probably happened about once every five years.
Officers go through “hundreds and hundreds” of hours of training and practice during which they learn about target acquisition, target zones and in what circumstances it is appropriate to pull the trigger.
There’s a psychological aspect to it, as well. Would you be capable of pulling the trigger when the moment arrived? Would you be capable of making the right decision under stress? Would you be capable of living with that decision?
Janesville’s two high schools and three middle schools each have a police liaison officer who works with students and staff. Those officers visit the elementary schools when they have time.
Although they are all armed, they are not hired as guards, said Patrick Gasper, district communication specialist.
They’re there to interact with students, help staff with safety issues and handle any threats.
Donohoue said he would support some kind of legislation on assault rifles such as the one used in the Florida shooting.
“I would like to make it unlawful to own—or very, very difficult to get,” Donohoue said. “There could be a special kind of licensing, and maybe we’d put a price tag on that.”
Janesville School Board member Jim Millard worked in the schools for many years before retiring. Almost immediately after retirement, he started working at St. Paul’s Lutheran School in Janesville.
“I think most teachers would say that that wasn’t even in their wheelhouse,” Millard said, referring to teachers having weapons. “I think they would say, ‘I went to school to be a teacher.’”
The possibility of a student taking a gun away from a teacher also concerned Millard. A teacher of small stature could easily be overpowered by a high school student, he said.
“Security is certainly better than it used to be—there’s a lot more cameras,” Millard said.
Security could always be better, he added.
School board member Steve Huth also worked in the school district.
“I don’t support arming teachers,” Huth said. “I do support having police liaisons in schools. Not only do they provide safety and security, but they are an educational resource for everybody in the building.”
The officers are positive role models, Huth said.
“Their interaction with students makes students and staff feel safer,” he said.
Arming teachers would not make anyone feel safer, he said.
At a recent school board finance committee meeting, members discussed communications updates that would improve school security.
The district’s phone system, which Huth described as “antiquated,” is going to be replaced. Some paging systems within schools need upgrades, and Huth wants to see a system that would allow quick communication among all school buildings.
School board member Carla Quirk works at the Rock County Courthouse, where county officials are considering security upgrades. Currently, only part of the courthouse is considered secured.
“I am 100 percent against arming teachers in our schools,” Quirk said. “I think the Legislature needs to ban or restrict the sale of high-powered, high-capacity weapons.”
Quirk said she didn’t understand how lawmakers could think a plan to arm teachers would benefit schools or help prevent school shootings.
“I think the Janesville School District does a good job with security,” Quirk said.
However, she said she was willing to listen to proposals brought forward by school administration.