Arm police officers in schools, voters say

The Columbus Dispatch – October 25, 2013

By almost a 2-to-1 ratio, Columbus City Schools voters want an armed police officer in their school.

A new poll by Saperstein Associates for The Dispatch shows support for gun-carrying police across geographic, racial, gender and age boundaries, regardless of whether those answering have a child in Columbus schools.

“There definitely should be armed officers in the school, and clearly with everything going on in the nation, with Sandy Hook being the biggest thing,” said survey participant Gian Sposito, 24, of the West Side, referring to the Connecticut elementary school where 20 first-graders and six employees were gunned down in December.

“When I went to (Pickerington Schools), we had an armed officer in the school every single day,” said the warehouse worker. “That put everybody at ease.

“I think that every single school, from kindergarten schools through elementary school through high school and the collegiate level, there should be armed officers around the clock. That would also give young people a positive outlook on law enforcement as well.”

He is among the 61 percent favoring the armed officers.

Deborah Steele is with the 31 percent opposed.

“I’m just a person who believes violence breeds violence,” said Steele, 34, of the Linden area, who coordinates volunteers for nonprofit groups. “I can’t believe we live in a day and age when to keep kids safe we need guns in the classroom. … I would rather have more teachers.”

The poll was taken before a 12-year-old student opened fire on Monday outside a Nevada middle school, killing a teacher and wounding two classmates before turning the 9 mm handgun on himself, and charges were filed against a 14-year-old Massachusetts student in the killing of a teacher on Tuesday.

But it comes amid heightened national concern about school safety and consideration of several bills in the Ohio legislature on topics ranging from guns to bullies to lockdown drills.

Columbus already has armed police officers in its high schools. Most suburban districts also have these “school resource officers” in their high schools. Some, including Dublin schools, have them in middle schools.

Respondent Mark Noble would go a step further, because a shooter would know to take out the police officer first: “It’s better to have employees who are armed. You’re already paying employees to be there every day.”

A software engineer who is also a firearms instructor, Noble, 37, of Clintonville, said studies of mass shootings show that the body count is directly related to “how fast someone who is capable of killing the shooter arrives. It doesn’t matter if they have a badge on.”

He said that when his 21-month-old daughter is old enough to go to school, he would be much more comfortable knowing that staff members who’ve taken Ohio’s conceal-carry training are present and armed.

“I think it would be a selling point for the school, in my personal opinion.”

Benjamin Zober, 33, of Italian Village said, “I think on a purely abstract level, introducing an additional inflammatory element seems counterproductive. It’s like fighting fire with fire by burning down what’s already aflame.

“That’s an oversimplification and it’s not a perfect analogy, but I just can’t come to terms with the possibility that the only way our kids can be safe is under armed guard.”

Zober, currently studying to become a rabbi in Jerusalem as a student at Hebrew Union College, said putting guns in schools “doesn’t do anything to stop the actual problem.”

State Rep. Kristina Roegner says Ohio law already allows anyone authorized by a board of education to carry a gun in school.

The Hudson Republican is co-sponsoring a bill that would continue to allow boards to authorize employees to carry guns, but would require at least conceal-carry training as well as collaboration with local law enforcement.

“If schools have the ability to arm someone, we ought to at least put some common-sense parameters around that,” she said. “I personally think it would benefit the safety of the school because if you’re a gunman you would think twice about going into a school where you don’t know what the resistance will be.”

The proposal would grant civil immunity to schools when their employees use guns consistent with the district’s safety plan. The identity of those granted permission to have a gun would be exempt from open-records and -meetings laws.

The Saperstein telephone poll — including land lines and cellphones — of 803 Columbus City Schools likely voters from Oct. 7 through Saturday has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points. Results were slightly weighted to conform to known demographics. The response rate was 41 percent.