The Shawnee Mission School District Police Department in Kansas issued eight semi-automatic rifles to district resource officers, the same members of the local law enforcement community who help school resource officers with school security.
Now, that decision is unnerving some local parents who say the weapons aren't going to keep their children any safer.
Citing the increasing threats associated with active shooter situations, John Douglass, Shawnee Mission school district's director of safety and security, says that issuing eight Smith & Wesson semi-automatic rifles for the seven district resource officers and one supervisor under his command was a carefully-made decision, the Kansas City Star reported.
“This weapon is a very serious weapon for some very limited circumstances,” Douglass told reporters. “You are never going to see it unless something really, really bad is happening.”
While the move was completed in 2015, a recent local news report made parents aware of this fact, raising questions concerning the district's security.
To some, the allocation of taxpayer-backed money for the purchase of these weapons — $5,671.04 total — is a waste. To others, the idea of having men armed to the teeth looking after children doesn't make any sense.
“It’s pretty offensive to me as a taxpayer to feel like you don’t have any voice and you are being excluded from decisions that could harm your child or kill them,” Melissa Patt, the mother of three local students said. “What else could we be spending our tax dollars on and getting the same safety results? Or is there evidence that it’s worth it?”
“I don’t fully believe one person with a bigger, badder gun is really going to make a huge difference in an active shooter situation in a school,” Lisa Veglahn, a local parent, stated. “Why did they feel it was necessary over other types of weapons?”
Still, there were some parents who agreed with Douglass, saying that they would rather see officers have access to these weapons instead of thinking their children would be hopeless in case of a real attack.
“While we will continue to hope and pray that these weapons are never needed and can continue to be locked in a safe, what if they are?” parent Matt Trusty wrote in a Facebook post that the Kansas City Star reported. “I would hope that in the event a real threat arose the person(s) deemed with keeping my children safe would have the tools and training to be able to do their job.”
According to the Kansas City Star, Shawnee Mission isn't the only district that partners with police departments. And in many cases, these departments are allowed to arm campus officers with weapons. Laura Cutilletta, legal director of Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said this decision is the police force's, not the state's.
“The state tends to stay out of that decision and allow police chiefs to determine what’s best for that force,” she said.
Regardless of the reasoning behind this purchase by the school district and how parents reacted, it's important to note the risks associated with police officers tasked with school security being given so much power to spare.
In an age when police departments are heavily armed with military-grade weapons and children are being targeted for being different, inventive, or just because of their religious background, knowing a school officer has access to this type of weaponry should concern anyone who's truly worried about child safety in America.