One Washington school district arms administrators with 9mm handguns

Feb 26, 2018, 8:27 AM | Updated: 11:10 am
gun control, schools, school...
(File, Associated Press)
(File, Associated Press)

As students at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School return to class this week for the first time since 17 people were killed there, the rest of the country is trying to figure out how to head off the next shooting.

Can’t we just require every gun owner get certified?

President Trump supports stronger background checks, banning bump stocks, and allowing teachers to carry concealed weapons.

“It’s time to make our schools a much harder target. When we declare our schools to be gun free zones it just puts our students in far more danger,” Trump said during the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday.

Meanwhile, Washington state Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal pushed back against the idea of arming teachers. He said more guns will only result in more shootings.

Why aren’t we blaming the shooter?

“Someone will make the argument that it will stop a school shooter if there is some courageous teacher and for every one of those I will absolutely predict for you that you will have … homicides in schools because there are guns there. You will have suicides. You will have students who accidentally get access to those.

“The risk is so enormous for the small probability that a kindergarten teacher will hunt some young person with an AR-15 and take them down with a shot the way a law enforcement officer will do. There’s just no evidence that is real.”

Arming school admin

But it turns out there is a school district in Washington state that does have guns on campus to defend against an attack.

Toppenish School District Superintendent John Cerna began looking into the idea following the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012. And over two years, the district decided to allow administrators to carry concealed pistols on campus.

It took some convincing to get the school board behind the idea, but they did eventually back it once they realized they could become a target.

“There was a shooting in Florida in a school board,” Cerna told Seattle’s Morning News. “A man came in because his wife had been fired by the school board. He comes in the school board meeting, spray paints a circle, puts a vendetta [“V”] on it, drops the spray paint can, and pulls a pistol out. There was no one there to protect the school board.”

At least, there was no one there to prevent the first shot being fired by the gunman. A security guard began shooting just after the gunman fired a second shot. The gunman fell to the ground and shot himself.

Backing the idea

It was enough for the Toppenish school board to get behind the idea. Now there is one administrator with a gun in each school. They all have the same weapon.

“Everybody carries a 9mm. There’s rationale behind that. All the bullets we use … they mushroom, so they really shouldn’t go through a person. Because we don’t want that bullet to go through somebody and hit a child or something like that.”

And yes, he is one of the armed administrators — but the names of the rest are kept secret. It’s like air marshals on planes — if the attacker doesn’t know who has the gun, they can’t prepare for it. Cerna believes it’s especially crucial to have staff carry weapons in a rural school district like his. He argues the average response for police across the country is more than 10 minutes.

“So think about that,” he said. “If I have someone in every building, which we do, that gap time becomes seconds.”

Parents in Toppenish support the idea.

“My question is are your kids safe? That’s the first question I ask them. And they don’t know. And when they don’t know, that means no.”

Firearm training

Superintendent Cerna and his team each went through 40 hours of training, including classroom work on firearm safety and maintenance. They train twice a month at the range and have to qualify using standards which he says are more stringent than many police departments. It’s considered part of their professional development.

Cerna acknowledges some districts don’t take training seriously enough. Like in Colorado, where he says they only have two firearm safety sessions per year.

Beyond the training, he’s very selective about who carries a firearm.

“With my administrators, not all of them are carrying, because some of them I wouldn’t let carry. You’ve gotta trust somebody that has your back.”

Even though the teachers don’t have guns, each classroom does have a baseball bat and pepper spray at the ready.

So far, one state legislator, State Senator Phil Fortunato, is working on legislation that would allow for armed teachers. Cerna says he’s been invited to help put that bill together.

Dave Ross on KIRO Newsradio 97.3 FM
  • listen to dave rossTune in to KIRO Newsradio weekdays at 5am for Dave Ross on Seattle's Morning News.

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One Washington school district arms administrators with 9mm handguns