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Citizens divided over idea of armed volunteers in schools
National, state and local responses are still being discussed in the wake of last year's Sandy Hook Elementary shooting.
It appears that at least in Federal Way, the community is somewhat divided on the best response to the fateful events of Dec. 14, 2012, when a gunman murdered 20 children and six adult staff members at the Connecticut school.
Mark Knapp, a local firearm enthusiast and Second Amendment advocate, presented an idea to the Federal Way School Board during the board's Feb. 12 meeting. Knapp said he thinks one way to prevent a Sandy Hook-like tragedy is to have teams of armed volunteers in the schools.
"Many of you may not realize that federal and state law enable the district to authorize folks that are not law enforcement to actually be armed and protect our kids and our school personnel," Knapp said. "I want to share some concepts that supplement the district's existing school safety measures."
Knapp said he'd like to see volunteer groups who are trained with firearms to be allowed on school grounds. These volunteers, he said, would receive their training on their own time and money, and would have to pass similar competency tests as those given to law enforcement officers.
"I'm personally convinced that this supplemental staff, if I could use that term, is the most effective way to protect the schools without immense costs to the taxpayers," Knapp said.
Along with that idea, Knapp said a group of citizens has already formed a "Citizens School Safety Committee" aimed at discussing and brainstorming ways that additional protection measures can be implemented throughout Federal Way schools.
He said the committee will provide written recommendations to the board on its ideas, and asked that Superintendent Rob Neu be allowed to meet with them from time to time to discuss their ideas.
Knapp also said he hoped Federal Way Police Chief Brian Wilson will be an active participant in the discussions with the newly formed committee.
"I want to emphasize, the goal is not to arm teachers, that's the wrong question," Knapp added.
Federal Way resident Kurt Peppard followed Knapp in the public comment process at the Feb. 12 meeting. Peppard took the time to rebut Knapp's ideas, and he thinks adding guns to school campuses is the wrong idea.
"One of our Watch Dogs at the school is a King County correctional officer down here at the Kent jail," Peppard said, referencing a volunteer group of fathers who help in various schools throughout the district. "And he's also highly trained in tactical weapons. We had a talk. He said, 'There's no way I'd bring a weapon into this school. There's no way. There's just too much of a chance of a problem. If a problem comes up, then we have to deal with that in a different way than if we leave weapons out of school.' That was his response."
Peppard continued, saying he can't imagine the task of being an armed volunteer at a school.
"I wouldn't want that job. To take weapons into a school? I couldn't imagine having to take a gun and point it at someone and having to pull the trigger, even if my life was threatened," he said. "That's just not any place we want to be going."
Peppard said volunteers should be "armed" with the skills to help students achieve.
"They (students) just have to believe in themselves. And once they get that concept, man, they really take off," he said. "And that's how you reduce the number of students that are going to come through the system, going off and doing this crazy stuff that happened back east. That's how we should be arming our volunteers, with the knowledge and compassion and the empathy to really help our students."
In January, Superintendent Rob Neu said he plans on strengthening the school district's relationship with the Federal Way Police Department. As it stands right now, police officers are present at the district's high schools. Known as school resource officers, they wear their full complement of gear while on duty at the schools.
Neu said the proposition of arming teachers and/or administrators is irresponsible.
"I just want to go on the record with the board in saying I think that is one of the most irresponsible positions to take in this gun discussion," Neu said in January. "Putting guns in the hands of teachers and principals, who got in this business of educating kids, and not being armed forces…It's just not a solution, in my mind, and will not be one that comes forward as a recommendation while I'm your superintendent."