Members of the Senate committee grilling Betsy DeVos last week were shocked at her response to a question from Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy. Mr. Murphy, an ardent supporter of gun control, asked the prospective secretary of education whether “guns have a place in or around schools.” That’s a fair question and elicited a fair answer. Mrs. DeVos suggested that the answer to that question depends on individual circumstances and is best left to the “locals and states to decide.”
Mr. Murphy and fellow Democrats on the committee were predictably outraged and their outrage escalated when, in suggesting that different schools in different locales face different and often unique security challenges, Mrs. DeVos suggested that the principal of the rural Wyoming school beset by grizzly bears might feel differently about having a firearm on the premises to protect his students than the principal in an equally bucolic, but safer location.
Mrs. DeVos would have been well advised to have used a different or less extreme example of the problems faced by our schools to make her point, but she was right. Mr. Murphy’s outrage reminds one of the Obama White House knee-jerk reaction to the National Rifle Association’s Wayne LaPierre suggesting after the 2012 Sandy Hook tragedy that “sometimes the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Mr. LaPierre went on to suggest that every school should review the security it provides its students, that meetings should take place involving parents, school administrators, teachers and local law enforcement to see if everyone involved was satisfied with the level of security being provided to the school, or if it should be upgraded by adding security cameras, better lighting, improved locks or, yes, armed security.
The Obama administration and liberal pundits went bonkers claiming Mr. LaPierre had gone ‘round the bend — until someone reminded them that most urban public schools already had armed school resource officers protecting their students as a part of a program initiated during the Clinton years. Since funding armed security for these schools had been a Democratic program, the mere idea of armed security couldn’t be mad; it was the idea of extending it to other schools that must be.
The NRA wasn’t convinced that the status quo was acceptable. Mr. LaPierre appointed Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson to put together a team of experts to examine what schools were doing to protect their students at the time and what they might do to enhance that protection. A former U.S. attorney, congressman who had served as No. 2 at the Department of Homeland Security and head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Mr. Hutchinson was uniquely fitted for the task. The team he put together traveled the country meeting with school and law enforcement officials to discover what was being done and what help might prove most useful.
The result was the National School Shield program, which today provides training to law enforcement and private groups that assess at no cost the needs of individual schools that might not otherwise be able to afford such an assessment. The program includes a grant program so that a school finding itself in need of funds for new locks, lights or a private security presence on campus can seek help from the School Shield program. I know a little about the program because after he was elected governor, Mr. Hutchinson asked me to head it, and I proudly accepted the job.
Some schools following an assessment of their needs decide against providing armed security. That is their right as the needs of individual school vary. Others, especially, for example, Orthodox Jewish schools, feeling themselves at greater risk decide they need armed and trained security personnel to protect their kids. The point that Mrs. DeVos grasps and which seems to totally elude Mr. Murphy is that the decision of how best to protect our kids is perhaps one not ceded to a few politicians in Washington.
Mr. Murphy, who represents Connecticut and uses the Newtown shootings as a backdrop for his every attack on gun ownership, ended his questioning of Mrs. DeVos by suggesting that she visit his state to discuss “the role of guns in schools.” If she takes him up on that one, the two should visit Newtown, where even as liberals were attacking the NRA in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings for suggesting armed protection for our schools, the school board voted unanimously to hire armed school resource officers to protect the kids and perhaps prevent a future tragedy like the one they had been forced to live through because Sandy Hook’s kids had no such protection.
• David A. Keene is Opinion editor at The Washington Times.
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