TODAY   |  August 01, 2013

Should teachers and school staff be armed?

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shootings, seven states enacted laws permitting teachers to carry guns in schools, prompting divided responses from parents and educators. The TODAY anchors talk to three education professionals about whether arming teachers can help keep schools safe.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> as a new school year approaches, the tragedies of sandy hook are still fresh in everyone's minds. since 1999 , 20 students and 4 teachers lost their lives at sandy hook , 4 students and 1 teacher kills in arkansas, 3 students in paducah, kentucky, 12 students and 1 teacher at columbine, 27 students and 5 faculty members at virginia tech , and 5 girls at an alish school in pennsylvania.

>> police officers will return to the newtown school district this fall. in the aftermath of the shootings there, seven states enacted laws permitting students and administrators to carry guns in schools. in clarbksville, arkansas, teachers have undergone training to protect their students if an active shooter enters the school . when classes resume this month, they will all carry a concealed weapon during the school day .

>> david hopkins is superintendent of the clarksville school district . mr. hopkins , good morning to you. you'll actually be one of these educators this fall going into a classroom with a concealed weapon . why do you feel this is necessary?

>> after the sandy hook incident occurred, that tragedy, i think superintendents and school personnel all across the country have been grappling with how can we provide a better security for our students and our faculties on our campuses? when you sit down and have an honest conversation with yourself and you put the political correctness aside and you think, if a gunman comes through the front door of your school , what do you do? well, seconds count. we can't wait for minutes to pass. something has to be done in a matter of seconds. that's what led us to the decisions that we've made to provide our own security force on our campus.

>> and mr. hopkins , what's the reaction been in the community? the parents, folks in the community about this?

>> it's been generally received very well in our community. not to say there haven't been some that didn't agree with that decision, but you would find that with just about any policy in a school district . so far, we've had overwhelming support from within our community and across the country.

>> mr. hopkins , will the children know that some of their teachers may be carrying a gun albeit a concealed weapon .

>> i think that that's going to be out in the community, obviously, with the press coverage that we've received. i think that most of the children probably know that that's going to take place. but, again, the reason we want to do it concealed is we wanted to try to be as a threat with the firearm wagging around on the teachers. we want it to be concealed. we want it to be business as usual . we're not putting these people in place to be police officers in our schools. that's not their job. the only time that they would act in that role as a security officer in our school would be in the event a madman came into our school wielding a weapon, trying to do our students and staff harm. that would be the only time they would act.

>> is it a prerequisite for a teacher to have a concealed weapon ? in other words, if they choose not to, can they opt out of that?

>> oh, certainly. this was done -- what we did, the administrative team sat down, and we looked at our staff across the district, and we kind of preselected who we wanted to approach about this, and then we went to those individuals, and we sat down and talked to them about this plan that we were trying to devise, they were all -- the members of this emergency response team all volunteered to do this.

>> superintendent david hopkins , thank you very much for your time. we appreciate it. donna cherry is president of the american federation of teachers in new jersey, and kurt lavarello is the executive director of the school safety advocacy council, good morning to you both. donna, you're a teacher. what do you think the impact would be on a child if they knew their teacher was carrying a gun?

>> in today's society where students see television where, if someone gets angry, they pull a gun, a classroom, a school is supposed to be a safe haven . a classroom is someplace where magic happens, and it happens when there is a comfortable feeling between teachers and students. i would hate for students to say, oh, my goodness, if i answer the wrong question, is my teacher going to shoot me? if i make my teacher angry, is my teacher going to shoot me?

>> could they make that connection?

>> i think, because of the media and everything they've been exposed to with people on a regular basis they see on tv, someone got mad and pulled out a gun. i also think it impacts parents. parents many times come into classrooms to have uncomfortable conversations with teachers. i wouldn't want parents to come in and be hesitant to say something to me with is this the teacher packing the gun? what do i have to be fearful? is i think it would make an environment of fear.

>> kurt, somebody who trains teachers for certain eventualities, what's your feeling on this? does it depend on, say, the community, where they have the guns at?

>> quite honestly, we're having the discussion for the very right reason, which is obviously we want to keep children safe. i understand the superintendent's position here because everybody in school district 's across the country post- sandy hook are grappling with what to do to make sure their children are safe. to go as far as the extreme to say we're going to start arming teachers in schools, there's a big difference between having an armed teacher and having a well-trained law enforcement officer and a school resource officer. there's a lot of things we can do in between that.

>> perhaps there's a happy medium.

>> what do you think is a last resort?

>> what do you think teachers think is necessary to ensure the safety of the children?

>> i think they want to see good safety preparedness. they want to make sure there's training in place. they want to make sure there's a good relationship with the local law enforcement agency, whether it's the sheriff's department, police department . there are a lot of things we can do to straighten it out on the front end before we go to necessarily the extreme of arming teachers.

>> arming every pilot feels crazy too. i feel better when ip on the plane, and i know there's a federal air marshal on the plain plane to make you feel your kids are safe.

>> in broward county , they're using part-time police officers who have gone through all the first response training just as that of a school resource officer. there are happy mediums in between.