After years of dejection, proponents of gun laws see hope

In this Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018 file photo, students released from a lockdown embrace following a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed several students and three staff members, in Parkland, Florida.

After the school shooting that led to 17 deaths in Parkland, Florida, educators and legislators looked for solutions. One particularly controversial proposal, repeatedly offered by President Donald Trump, suggests arming and training teachers.

"Armed Educators (and trusted people who work within a school) love our students and will protect them," Trump tweeted Saturday. "Very smart people. Must be firearms adept & have annual training. Should get yearly bonus. Shootings will not happen again - a big & very inexpensive deterrent. Up to States."

That idea has received some backlash, with critics arguing the move could lead to more gun violence.

In an often passionate debate that can become a battle between extremes, Robert Butler, associate executive director of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, doesn't think there's a top-down, one-size-fits-all solution. On an episode of the Sunday political talk show “UpFront with Mike Gousha,” Butler suggested asking local police, liability carriers and teachers for input at a local level to make plans for stronger school security.

“Each of our members has unique facilities, a unique location, and what may not be a prudent course of action for a district that has law enforcement nearby, may be a strategy and a tactic that a rural school district with law enforcement available contemplates,” Butler said.

Trump isn’t the only one suggesting putting more guns in schools. Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel has also said he would be open to armed and trained teachers.

Last week, the state Assembly passed a bill giving grants to school districts that employ armed safety officers. Butler called the measure “a step in the right direction,” but said his organization had concerns, as the bill doesn’t cover K-4 schools, and as a grant, the “aspect of how this gets funded is an important question.”

It’s unclear how that bill will fare in the Senate. On another WKOW-TV political talk show, “Capital City Sunday,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he hasn’t spoken to anyone in the Senate about armed security guards. Instead, he’s heard ideas about making sure schools could install more electronic security or structures like corridors or vestibules outside entrances to better identify threats.

When Butler was asked about training and arming teachers, he made it clear that discussion on the topic needs to start locally.

“First off, before any sort of conversation like that would occur, at a local level the school district, the school board and administration really should check with local law enforcement and really get their informed opinion … on whether that's going to be an efficient and efficacious way to respond to some sort of threat,” Butler said.

Schools should also check with their liability carriers, and see if they have teaching staff willing to participate, he said. He said WASB recommends that school districts examine using current or retired law enforcement officials as school security, but said that in some areas, trained teachers could be used as “another intercession technique.”

Butler said that Wisconsin “school districts have been very diligent through the years in adopting safety plans and revisiting them on a frequent basis.” But school security involves more than looking at guards, facilities and security cameras, he said. It also means looking at ways to diminish threats through services like school counseling.

“How do students feel included within the school community? How do students who feel threatened or concerned report those concerns to the applicable staff?” he said.