NRA idea for arming staffers in all schools familiar to 2 W.Pa. districts

Jeremy Boren
| Friday, Dec. 21, 2012, 11:38 p.m.

The head of the National Rifle Association on Friday said armed police in every U.S. school could prevent the next deadly school massacre, an idea familiar to two Western Pennsylvania schools with armed police and other administrators who said they want to arm officers and teachers.

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said. “Would you rather have your 911 call bring a good guy with a gun from a mile away or a minute away?”

LaPierre's comments during a 30-minute news conference ended the NRA's silence since a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., a week before. LaPierre blamed graphic video games and movies for poisoning Americans' minds with violence and said more must be done to track mentally ill people who could turn violent.

The NRA's wide-ranging statement invited praise and rebukes from gun control advocates, gun owners, school board members and mental health professionals.

“Their answer to anything is more guns,” said U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills. “I don't think arming more people is the answer, but I do think we need to have a comprehensive approach. We need to have more access to mental health services, but we also have to take military weapons out of the hands of people.” He said he supports a ban on assault weapons and gun buy-back programs.

Shira Goodman, executive director of the nonprofit CeaseFirePA, said the NRA is trying to deflect attention from recent talk by President Obama and others about reinstituting a federal ban of military-style weapons and prohibiting high-capacity ammunition magazines.

“They're completely out of touch with Americans and Pennsylvanians and the conversation about gun violence protection,” she said.

Jude Abraham, business manager for Hempfield Area School District, said he would propose training and arming school principals.

“The reaction time of the state police is going to be minutes to tens of minutes. How else do we protect our children, unless we have someone on the inside?” Abraham said.

Hempfield board President Sonya Brajdic said she's not sure arming administrators or employees would help.

“I certainly understand what happened last week is a devastating tragedy. Even having armed guards at every school is not going to stop a crazy person from coming into a school,” she said.

Hempfield beefed up security by installing more cameras and an electronic entry system. It hired two unarmed school resource officers to patrol buildings but laid them off to cut costs.

Mark Boerio, owner of the Army Navy Store in Latrobe, said school teachers recently bought handguns at his store.

“They want to be able to protect themselves,” Boerio said. “These teachers are good people. I know how important kids are to them.”

Butler Area and South Butler school districts received special permission to arm security guards at the schools on Monday, the first school day after the slayings in Newtown.

The guards are Pennsylvania State Police retirees who are allowed to carry personal weapons in school buildings.

Gun owner Brian Egan, 26, of Cranberry said the NRA was obligated to address the Newtown massacre after staying quiet about it for a week. He supports putting armed guards in schools but said they could become targets for a determined gunman.

“The first thing they're going to do is take out any kind of threat, and somebody in uniform would stand out as an immediate threat,” Egan said.

Police presence didn't guarantee student safety in past school shootings.

An armed Jefferson County, Colo., sheriff's deputy traded gunshots with one of two gunmen who killed 12 students and a teacher at Columbine High School in 1999.

Nat Pantalone, president of Greensburg Salem School District's board of directors, said he supports arming teachers and administrators as long as they are trained and certified. The identity of a teacher or administrator authorized to carry a concealed weapon would be kept secret, he said. He plans to raise at a school board meeting the idea of arming school personnel.

So does Seneca Valley School Board member Eric Gordon, a gun owner and NRA member. Gordon said under his plan, teachers who receive special training would be permitted to bring personal firearms to school, provided they remain locked in a classroom safe. The guns would be used only if a shooter entered the school, he said. He disagrees with the NRA's proposal to place armed police in every school.

“It's a waste of money,” he said. “The cost of it would be insane, and then how often do you actually have to deal with these situations?”

LaPierre blamed violent video games such as Mortal Kombat and Grand Theft Auto for contributing to a “corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells — and sows — violence against its own people.”

Katherine Biehl, 32, of Monroeville said a relative bought her four children, ages 6 to 12, violent video games including “Call of Duty: Black Ops,” a popular first-person shooter-style game, and a Civil War-themed game.

She returned them to the store after the Newtown massacre.

“There's an age range where you can teach about guns in a safe environment and touch them,” Biehl said. “They shouldn't learn about them from a video game when a parent's not even in the room.”

LaPierre said resistance to creating a national database of the mentally ill makes it harder for authorities to identify would-be copycat killers seeking the media spotlight.

Mental health advocates say they oppose creating a national database of the mentally ill.

“This would just further exacerbate the stigma surrounding mental illness,” said Laurie Barnett Levine, executive director of Mental Health America Westmoreland. “People with mental illness are not criminals. They're more often victims than perpetrators.”

Jeremy Boren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7935 or Staff writers Richard Gazarik, Bill Vidonic and Bobby Kerlik contributed to this report.

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