Rep. Betty Olson (R-29/Prairie City) and Rev. Rep.-Elect Scott Craig (R-33/Rapid City) are both considering legislation to allow South Dakota teachers to carry guns in their classrooms. Various school superintendents think arming teachers is a bad idea. Fellow pastor and pol Rep. Steve Hickey (R-9/Sioux Falls) doesn't want me carrying a gun in my classroom; he wants me to focus on teaching. In an e-mail, he tells me he would prefer to create a corps of school marshals:

My idea would be that school boards would have the option to secure the services of volunteer or contract state registered school marshals to provide security support on premises or on outings to enhance student safety. These would be plain-clothed, concealed weapon available responders. School employees could also go through the process to be a school marshall or they could be ex-military in the community or school, or citizens who meet a criteria that includes background check, mental health screenings, weapons and some level of reaction shooting scenario training. My thought was it'd be a option for school boards to decide on for their district and the applicant would have to have the recommendation of the Superintendent and the County Sheriff. Maybe there would be a limit on school marshals based on student population [Rep. Steve Hickey, e-mail, 2012.12.20].

To his credit, Rep. Hickey recognizes that school marshals and other direct tactical responses are only one part of preventing school violence. Rep. Hickey says we also need to work on mental health and early warning measures.

Also to his credit, Rep. Hickey is seeking the input of adminstrators and educators. He wants to engage the public before dropping a bill with the House clerk and expand the dialogue beyond the confines of the hard-to-access committee process.

Rep. Hickey is right to prefer trained, professional armed guards to teachers or volunteers carrying firearms. My spare mental resources are better spent teaching, not playing marshal.

But similarly, any spare resources we may have to hire school marshals would be better spent on items other than security. I do not feel unsafe at school. Even with the shooting in Connecticut, schools are still the safest place in the world for children. My students and my daughter are more likely to suffer violent injury or death at home or on the road.

I see other student needs that should take priority over bringing armed guards to our schools:

  1. Quite seriously, let's hire back the 214 teachers lost in FY2012. At $39K each, that's a bit over $8.3 million. Those 214 skilled professionals working in classrooms and interacting with children every day will do more daily, concrete, ongoing good for our students than will any number of additional armed personnel in our buildings.
  2. Hire more school counselors to help students with mental health issues. Marshals may deter or neutralize armed outsiders and students who go ballistic; counselors may keep kids from going ballistic in the first place.
  3. Direct funds to public mental health services outside the school.
  4. Force the Governor to accept the PPACA Medicaid expansion. Make mental health services available to more citizens. Back that expansion with outreach to get people to seek that help.

The above four policy options will make our kids safer than school marshals. They will also provide direct educational and public health benefits that school marshals cannot.