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— A suburban Denver school district is arming its security staff with military-style semiautomatic rifles in case of a school shooting or other violent attack, a move that appears unprecedented even as more schools arm employees in response to mass violence elsewhere.

The Douglas County School District guards are former law enforcement officers and already carry handguns.

District security director Richard Payne said he decided to spend more than $12,000 on the Bushmaster brand rifles for the district’s eight armed officers to give them the same tools as law enforcement, including the sheriff’s deputies they train with. Payne said the rifles will be kept locked in patrol cars, not in the schools.

Payne said he made the decision to buy assault rifles himself and the school board has not discussed it. The superintendent approved the purchase after lengthy discussion, district spokeswoman Paula Hans said.

The move raised new questions about how far school officials should go in arming employees, a practice that has become standard in the aftermath of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.

Districts across the nation rushed to increase the number of school resource officers on campus and, in a few cases, allowed teachers to carry concealed weapons themselves.

In Colorado, where the scars of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre still run deep, volunteer reserve sheriff’s deputies patrol some elementary schools, and an armed resource officer was credited with stopping further violence at a suburban Denver high school in 2013 by cornering a student gunman, who then shot himself.

Ken Trump, a school safety consultant in Cleveland, said the Douglas County case may mark the first time a district has equipped its in-house security officers with semiautomatic rifles.

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