South Dakota law enforcement officials are raising concerns over a potential push in the legislature to arm school staff to prevent a mass shooting spree here.
Incoming Rapid City State Representative Scott Craig told KELOLAND News on Wednesday that a well-trained, armed school employee would be able to protect students. But law enforcement authorities think that proposal could only make a tragic situation even worse.
Sioux Falls Police Chief Doug Barthel gives credit to South Dakota lawmakers for looking into possible solutions to preventing the kind of school violence we saw unfold last week in Connecticut. But he believes a plan to arm school employees might backfire.
Barthel thinks it would be very difficult for any school employee to keep up the extensive training necessary to fire a weapon amid the chaos of a school shooting. Plus, it requires a special type of mindset to quickly switch gears from being an educator one moment, to pulling the trigger, the next.
"If they were shooting other kids, you think I could easily do that but to actually get yourself to the point where you're going to take another human being's life, takes a lot," Barthel said.
Barthel says an armed civilian might mistakenly fire upon officers arriving at the school.
"They don't know whether or not that the other person they're shooting at is a police officer or vice versa, as an officer responds to the scene they don't know if the teacher is the shooter or if they're an employee of the school," Barthel said.
Barthel thinks an armed school staff member will only wind up at the top of the 'hit list' should an armed suspect enter a school.
"I, as a shooter, I know if I go into a school that the teachers are the ones carrying guns, they're going to be the first target, take them out first, then I can go after the innocent students," Barthel said.
Barthel says efforts like practicing lockdown drills have made Sioux Falls schools safer in recent years. He worries that arming school staff might have just the opposite effect.
"I would think a teacher, if someone suddenly came in your classroom and started shooting, the first thing on your mind is to take care of your kids, not to go get your gun. And I really don't think we want our teachers to start strapping rifles on their backs," Barthel said.
While airlines use armed sky marshals to deter potential hijackers, Barthel says an armed school employee doesn't have the same ability to discourage a would-be gunman. That's because a sky marshal has a law enforcement background.