Monday, February 4, 2013

Armed pilots provide roadmap for securing schools

When, in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, National Rifle Association President Wayne LaPierre called for armed security guards in schools, he faced widespread criticism from liberals who believe that fewer guns, not more, are the answer to the problem of mass killings. On the other side of the political spectrum, some conservatives argued that the cost of placing police officers in every school across the nation was too costly for a federal government that is already running trillion dollar deficits each year.

The concept of armed guards at schools was proven on Jan. 31, 2013 when an armed officer stopped a shooting at Price Middle School in Atlanta. A student had smuggled a gun past metal detectors and opened fire in the courtyard of the school, wounding a 14-year-old student in the neck before the officer was able to get the gun away from him according to CBS News.

Even though armed guards are effective, they are also prohibitively expensive for many school districts. According to Craig Steckler, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, as quoted in the Wall Street Journal, the average salary of a police officer is $55,000. There are 98,817 public schools in the United States. According to the Department of Education, about 25 percent of these already have armed security officers on campus at least once per week. The cost for providing officers for the remaining 74,113 schools would be more than $4 trillion. In spite of the recent high profile school shootings, fewer than two percent of all youth homicides occur at or on the way to school.

The school protection dilemma is analogous to the problem of protecting airline flights in the wake of the September 11 attacks. One proposal was to put Federal Air Marshals on all flights, but with tens of thousands of airline flights each day the plan was prohibitively expensive. Training enough air marshals to guard these flights would also have taken years.

An alternative solution was to create the Federal Flight Deck Officer program. This program took volunteer airline pilots and deputized them as federal agents to protect their airplanes. The volunteers were issued pistols and then trained to use them effectively. The volunteers received no federal salary or extra pay from their airlines. Instead they use vacation time to travel at their own expense to the federal training center where FFDO training is conducted. They even paid for the training themselves.

The number of FFDOs is secret, but since the program’s inception in 2003, there have been only two public incidents involving FFDOs who caused safety issues with their guns. In 2011, NBC News reported that a passenger mistakenly picked up a bag containing a JetBlue pilot’s gun. More seriously, in 2008, a US Airways pilot accidentally fired his gun in flight according to Reuters. The aircraft landed safely and no one was injured.

The FFDO program has been spectacularly successful in terms of safety, cost and fulfilling the mission of protecting airline flights. Federal Air Marshals, full time agents, are used as well, but are deployed on flights deemed to be at high risk for attack.

A similar approach could be used in schools to allow volunteer teachers and school employees to become “Federal Classroom Officers.” As with FFDOs, the teachers would be federal officers and would be exempt from local gun ordinances that prohibit gun ownership. As with other law enforcement officers, they would also be allowed to carry their guns in the “gun free” school zones.

Teachers would not be forced to carry a weapon. The program would be for volunteers only. Teachers who do not like guns would be free to choose to remain defenseless. Those who prefer to be able to defend themselves and their students would be issued a weapon and trained to use it safely. They would be required to demonstrate competency with their gun at regular intervals to maintain proficiency.

Teachers who choose not to take part in the program would still benefit from it. First, they would be the direct recipient of protection from the Federal Classroom Officers in the event of a school shooting or terrorist attack. Second, the mere presence of Federal Classroom Officers might well deter many prospective murderers from attacking the school. In the past, many mass murders have taken in place in areas that were deemed to be “gun free.”

There is no doubt that many will oppose the idea of bringing guns into schools. Many of the same arguments that will arise were presented against the idea of arming pilots 10 years ago and have been refuted by the success of the FFDO program.

In reality, guns are already present in our schools. Thousands of schools are already patrolled by armed officers. Federal Classroom Officers would have the same training in firearms that these school security officers receive. All too often others, people like Adam Lanza, bring other guns to school when police officers are not present. In the end, that is why teachers should be given the option to arm themselves. There is no foolproof way to keep bad guys with guns out schools, but we can give our teachers and students a fighting chance.


Originally published on Examiner:

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