Trained and qualified deputies who patrol Broward County, Fla., schools will carry rifles, and some will carry AR-15s, the same weapon that was used to carry out a mass shooting at one of the district’s high schools last week, Sheriff Scott Israel said.
“Only deputies who are trained and qualified will be carrying those rifles,” Israel said at an afternoon press conference. “We need to be able to defeat any threat that comes onto campus.”
Police say a 19-year-old gunman entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland with an AR-15 on Valentine’s Day, where he killed 17 people and injured 15 others.
Israel said he had the support of Broward County Superintendent Robert Runcie for his decision.
He spoke as President Donald Trump met with Parkland students and families and survivors of past school shootings to discuss safety. At that meeting, Trump voice support for arming teachers to allow for quicker response to security threats, an idea many educators have opposed.
Stoneman Douglas High School has an armed school resource officer assigned to its campus, but Israel has not yet said where that officer was during the shooting. He did not discharge his weapon during the attack, Israel said Wednesday.
The rifles will be locked in police vehicles when deputies are not carrying them until the district can equip schools with lock boxes, Israel said.
Parkland students and teachers have said schools there may need higher levels of security as Stoneman Douglas students return to class to address the anxieties of students and parents after the attack.
As I’ve written previously, a handful of other districts have equipped officers with semi-automatic rifles, some relying on a controversial military surplus program to do so:
Questions about whether school-based officers should obtain or carry such powerful weapons run parallel to a larger question in debates over how to prevent school shootings: Is the burden of addressing such rare but devastating incidents on schools, which have fortified their safety measures in recent years? Or should society at large play a greater role through changes like tighter gun restrictions and increased access to mental health programs?
Israel said bigger changes are needed in the long run to address concerns about school shootings. He is one of many public officials in the south Florida community who have called for “sensible gun control” since the attack. They’ve pushed for lawmakers to limit or eliminate sales of semi-automatic rifles like AR-15s, and they’ve called for stronger background checks.
Israel wants legal changes that would make it easier for police and the courts to disarm people who are seen as a possible threat to themselves and others.
“Now we’re at a point in American history where, if we’re going to be safe, it’s up to the lawmakers,” Israel said. “Laws have to be changed, and we can’t do the same old, same old.”
Photo: A newly assembled AR-15 rifle is displayed in 2013 at the Stag Arms company in New Britain, Conn. --Charles Krupa/AP-File
Related reading about school safety:
- School Shootings: Five Critical Questions
- Senator Ends 15-Hour Push for Tighter Gun Laws With Story of Newtown Teacher
- Powerful Rifles At Center of Gun Debates Are Also Used by Some School Police
- Parkland Students Want to Know: Will the Shooting at Their School Change Gun Laws?
- For Parkland Students and Teachers, Wrenching Questions Surround Return to School
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.