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The city’s police chief and schools superintendent on Thursday defended their differing positions on arming school teachers — a debate that has taken the national stage since a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida, last month.

Chief James Craig, who told the Detroit News earlier this week that some teachers who are trained, such as former police officers, should be allowed to carry guns in school, said his views have been largely misinterpreted by the public.

“I want to emphasize, I’m not saying line teachers up and give them guns,” said Craig, calling it “outrageous” that some people thought he wanted all teachers armed.

The process of deciding who carries a gun at school would be contingent on rigorous background checks and preference for teachers with military or law enforcement backgrounds, Craig said.

Detroit Public Schools Community District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti maintained that guns have no place in the classroom, with the exception of armed school police officers.

“When you add more guns to an environment, you increase the likelihood that they are used,” Vitti said. “Teachers and principals are there to educate students, not necessarily to prevent a mass shooting from happening.”

Craig and Vitti debated the issue during the Detroit Policy Conference at the MotorCity Casino and Hotel. The theme of the conversation was “Leading with Civility.”

President Donald Trump has suggested arming teachers, while students across the country protested for more gun control following the Florida shooting. Trump said designating schools as “gun-free zones” puts students in “far more danger” and called for “gun-adept teachers and coaches” to be able to carry concealed firearms.

Vitti said the event Thursday served as a good platform for him and Craig to openly discuss their views instead of attacking each other.

The schools chief said teachers in Detroit are against placing more guns in schools and that he has yet to hear from a parent who supports arming educators. For many city students, the classroom is safer than their own neighborhood or home because there are no guns, Vitti said.

He also noted that mass shootings are not happening in other countries.

“The difference in our country is the easy access to weapons,” Vitti said. “Why in the world in this country are we in any way allowing weapons to fall into the hands of children?”

Craig reiterated his controversial position that more armed citizens are a deterrent to criminals.

“I wish I could look you in the face and say schools are safe havens,” Craig said. “Unfortunately our time is different and we have to be about the business of protecting each other.”

The two leaders agreed that addressing mental illness will be key to preventing mass shootings.

“We have failed those suffering from mental illness,” Craig said. “We put a Band-Aid on it and say ‘go away.’”

Moving forward, Vitti said the school district will be ensuring metal detectors and surveillance cameras are operating, reviewing lock down procedures and working more closely with the police to share information about threats or other issues.

The school district will not reconsider its position on putting more guns in schools, Vitti said.

“We oppose any federal or state laws that teachers should be armed,” he said.

nterry@detroitnews.com

(313) 648-0137

Twitter: @NicquelTerry

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