Column: Armed teachers part of solution

Jim Runestad

As the old adage goes, “When seconds count, police are minutes away.”

That is the harsh reality when it comes to school shootings. In the vast majority of instances, the gunfire is over within 3 to 5 minutes of the first bullet fired. It typically takes law enforcement officers longer than that to arrive on scene.

When a school shooting is in progress, the best line of defense is to have a highly trained, armed individual already in the building who is willing to take action to protect students.

I’m currently drafting legislation to provide an exemption under Michigan’s concealed carry laws giving specially trained school employees the option to keep firearms secured inside restricted school zones to use for emergency purposes.

My plan would allow for the establishment of school marshals who would perform a function similar to the air marshals that protect flights. In school districts that choose to participate, teachers and other school employees who volunteer would be put through a rigorous training and vetting process before being given special permission to keep locked firearms in secured locations throughout the school that can be opened only by staff on the armed response team. They would only use frangible ammunition that breaks apart upon impact, helping prevent bullets from traveling through walls and into other classrooms.

The program would be entirely voluntary. School districts can choose whether or not to participate. In the districts that do, teachers who have no interest in touching firearms will not be called upon to do so. Additionally, teachers and staff members who cannot pass background checks and psychological examinations will not be allowed to participate.

Carefully chosen employees will undergo training alongside local law enforcement, giving officers an opportunity to get familiar with staff members who are part of the armed response team. It also ensures that school marshals would have to meet, or exceed, the same training standards as local police.

The participating teachers will not be walking around with guns holstered on their hips. In fact, the school marshals would remain anonymous to almost everyone except school administrators and local law enforcement unless they are called to action in the event of an emergency.

Police officers also see this as a viable option. In a survey of more than 15,000 law enforcement professionals conducted by PoliceOne.com, more than 81 percent of respondents were in favor of arming teachers and school administrators if they were properly trained and vetted.

School districts in more than a dozen other states, including Ohio, have programs where trained school employees have access to firearms to use in the event of a school shooting situation. It’s a reasonable solution that’s gaining a lot of momentum. At least six other states have bills under consideration to allow similar plans in their states.

In Texas, where school marshals are allowed if they meet the same type of requirements I am proposing, the full process costs between $5,000 and $7,000 per marshal. That’s a small price to pay to protect our students, who otherwise are sitting ducks if an armed murderer were to enter their building. I’m hoping to work out a grant program to help Michigan districts get started.

In the wake of yet another heartbreaking school shooting, it’s clear we need to get proactive. I’m committed to offering our schools with a reasonable option for improving security. The legislation I’m drafting is a great start, and I’m looking forward to working out all of the details in the coming months.

State Rep. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, represents Michigan’s 44th District.