MARIETTA - The idea of having guards or other employees armed with guns to prevent a mass shooting is a concept some local school officials and residents are willing to consider.
After a single gunman murdered 20 young students and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. two weeks ago, the nation has debated how to stop it from happening again. Last week, National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre's call for armed guards in all the nation's schools drew criticism from many but support from others. Prior to that, the Buckeye Firearms Association launched a pilot program to provide free firearms training to teachers, and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said he would support allowing one employee at a school access to a firearm, adding the decision should be up to local districts.
Three days after the Newtown shooting, Marietta Police Sgt. Rod Hupp asked the Marietta City Board of Education to think about allowing some school personnel to carry concealed handguns.
"He's not asking us to implement it; he's just asking us to consider it," said Greg Gault, president of the Marietta board, on Thursday. "I do have reservations about guns being in schools as a parent. At the same time, I recognize that may be what it takes to stop a situation like this."
Board member Karen Burton said she doesn't like the idea of arming school personnel at first blush but she's willing to listen.
"I'm not saying I won't change my mind," she said.
Burton retired after 39 years as a teacher, most of them in the Warren Local school district. She recalled areas where security needed to be improved after the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado, "but as far as thinking somebody in our school should be armed, no I never did think that."
Burton said she's concerned about what might happen if a staff member carrying a weapon became involved in an argument or otherwise loses their cool in a confrontation at work.
Marietta police Capt. Jeff Waite said that's not a source of worry for him because people who have concealed-carry permits are trained in how to properly use a firearm. Those individuals probably put more thought into their responses and work harder to defuse situations verbally than the average individual, he said.
"The firearm is there for worst-case, last-ditch scenarios where they have to defend themselves or somebody else," Waite said. "There are lots of (concealed-carry) permit holders in Washington County, and we don't have the high noon at the O.K. Corral that some people thought we would."
Dion Prunty, a sixth-grade teacher at Marietta Middle School and president of the Marietta City Education Association, said she would favor having a dedicated security guard or police officer stationed at a school rather than arming a fellow teacher.
"I just think that that's asking for trouble," she said, noting being armed could open a teacher to complaints from parents.
Prunty said if a school employee was armed, a principal would make more sense.
"I would rather it be administration, because they have more opportunity to get somewhere than teachers would," she said. "I wouldn't leave my kids to go hunt for a killer."
The issue is likely to be considered by more districts and communities than Marietta.
Fort Frye Local Board of Education President Johnna Zalmanek said it's sad that circumstances have made such a conversation necessary.
"I hate to say it, but I think eventually it's going to have to come to something like that, a security guard, somebody trained to deal with things like that," she said. "We definitely need to look at all of our options and see the best interest of our students."
Zalmanek said she wouldn't be opposed to a properly trained teacher being armed, but she feels they have enough responsibility as it is and she leans more toward a dedicated guard.
That's the approach Fort Frye Superintendent Tom Gibbs would be most likely to consider.
"I'm not opposed to the concept, if funding can be found for it, of properly trained and licensed resource officers," he said.
Gibbs, who also serves as the Warren Local Schools superintendent, said he's not comfortable with the idea of, say, a kindergarten teacher being armed. And any officer placed in a school in that manner should be trained not only in law enforcement and security, but also in interacting with students and their families.
The funding component Gibbs mentioned is one of the problems New Matamoras Elementary Principal Bill Wotring has with the NRA leader's call for armed guards at all schools.
"As soon as you say something like that, reality has to come into play," he said. "To do that ... you talk about spending a whole bunch of money."
School districts are already struggling to keep up with expenses, Wotring said, so adding staff is no small order. LaPierre had called on the federal government to provide the funding.
Wotring said he prefers other security measures, including adding a camera at the front door and perhaps metal bars on glass doors, over arming employees.
"I guess it's just my bottom-line feeling that guns just tend to be dangerous," he said.
Even if a responsible, trained employee was identified, Wotring said, what would the school do when that person was out of the building?
"The reality of that is you're going to have to have two or three people," he said, adding that even then, there's no guarantee the armed employee would be in the location where a would-be shooter gained entry to the building.
Chuck Nonnenmacher, owner of Magnum, Get Your Shot On in Whipple, said that's one reason he favors having multiple staff members, who are willing to, carry concealed weapons.
"That one guy, he can't do it himself," he said.
Knowing multiple employees could be armed would be a strong deterrent to a potential shooter, Nonnenmacher said.
"They don't know which teacher has decided to have that .357 in her desk," he said.
The Ohio Revised Code allows school boards to decide who, if anyone, can have a weapon on school grounds. Should local districts decide to allow staff members to carry concealed weapons, Nonnenmacher said his business would provide free training, with the only cost to school employees being materials like workbooks.
Marietta resident Barbara Jett, 58, said she would be "all for" having armed personnel at Marietta Middle School, which two of her grandchildren attend.
"I just think that could be a big deterrent to keep someone from going into the schools with a gun," she said.
Having multiple employees armed would provide a "check and balance" should one of them prove to be a threat, Jett said.
Lowell resident Konnie Yoho, 54, said an armed employee - perhaps a custodian or someone else who would be moving throughout the building - could be one way to increase security.
"I would not have a problem with that at all," she said.
Yoho also suggested that schools consider installing metal detectors people would have to walk through before reaching the main door so that staff inside could be warned of a potential problem.
"Let's stop them before they get in," she said.