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Should schools be gun-free zones?

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By John Barnhart

    Philip VanCleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, came to Bedford to speak at the Nov. 13 board of supervisors meeting. Mr. VanCleave was there to speak in support of District 4 Supervisor John Sharp’s firearms proposal.
    I agree with Mr. VanCleave. The General Assembly should craft a bill along the lines that Mr. Sharp suggested.
    At the end of the supervisors’ last meeting in October, when they discussed legislative priorities, Mr. Sharp added one — his motion passed 6-1, to ask the General Assembly for enabling legislation that would allow local school boards to authorize school personnel, who have a concealed weapons permit, to carry a concealed weapon on school property. The proposal elicited an immediate uproar from the school board and I’m completely mystified as to why they would react that way.
    Keep in mind that Mr. Sharp’s proposal is not calling for anybody to be required to do anything. Sharp is just calling for enabling legislation from the General Assembly. Virginia is a Dillon’s Rule state. As such, local governments can only do what the state government authorizes them to do. The legislation Sharp is calling for would explicitly give localities in the Commonwealth the authority to authorize school personnel to bear arms in school.
    Under Mr. Sharp’s proposal, the authority to allow school personnel to carry firearms on school property would rest with school boards, not boards of supervisors or city councils. That’s why I don’t understand the school board’s objection at this point. Even if such enabling legislation passes the General Assembly, the board of supervisors would not be able to require the school board to allow school personnel to carry firearms. That decision would rest solely with the school board.
    Is the school board afraid to have that authority?
    As far as school security is concerned, I think Sheriff Mike Brown’s proposal to put a school resource officer in each of the county’s elementary schools would be a better proposal. A police officer, with special training for the purpose, would be better prepared to deal with an active shooter in a school situation. Along with stopping the shooter, and not getting shot himself, the officer also has to keep aware of what, or who, is in his line of fire. That’s not to say that a school resource officer wouldn’t make a mistake that results in a kid or teacher getting hit by a stray bullet, but he’s less likely to make such a mistake than somebody else would be.
    The problem is that hiring 16 additional resource officers would cost $850,000, by Sheriff Brown’s estimate. Mr. Sharp believes the cost will be more like $1.2 million once the cost of vehicles are included.
    An editorial in the Nov. 6 edition of the Bedford Bulletin offered the opinion, “should finances really be the top factor in making such a decision?”
    Unfortunately, finances are always a critical factor in everything government does because everything the government does costs money.  This money must come out of taxpayers’ pockets and I don’t think folks have seen their incomes skyrocket over recent years. The county has a lot of expenses that the supervisors must figure out how to pay for. Just recently, they have had to vote money for a new electrical substation to serve the industrial park in New London, and extra money to cover unanticipated expenses in a regional radio system upgrade. They have also heard a presentation about how far behind the county is in replacing fire trucks, which cost more $500,000 apiece.
    However, the main issue here is not fiscal. It’s a question of whether making public schools gun-free zones makes them safer. I believe it does the opposite, but that’s a decision for the school board to make. Mr. Sharp’s proposal, if it actually becomes state law, will still leave that decision in the school board’s hands.
    So, why all the fuss?