Guns in schools continue to be a part of the national conversation in light of recent school shootings.

The concern around school safety has become more urgent after recent mass shootings, with the deadliest being at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 children were killed along with two teachers.

Recently, a town hall was hosted in Baldwin County to address school safety in the county.

One of the speakers was Spanish Fort Police Chief John Barber, who spoke at length on the state of school security in Baldwin County.

“The biggest threat to our children’s safety right now are these mass shootings that are occurring, this phenomenon we have been dealing with for the last 20-plus years,” Barber said.

In the midst of a broad conversation on preventing school shooters, Barber stated that he does not support arming teachers.

“Introducing additional guns into the classroom doesn’t make sense to me; it’s counterintuitive,” Barber said

Barber is not alone in his sentiments.

According to the Rand Corporation, the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers - which are both teachers' unions - and some gun safety advocacy organizations oppose arming teachers

Alabama does not have a system of arming teachers.

The Alabama Sentry Program (ASP) is a voluntary program that permits school administrators without a School Resource Officer (SRO) to maintain a firearm on campus in a safe to be prepared to respond to an active shooter situation.

State Rep. Matt Simpson (R- Daphne) attended the town hall and expressed broad sympathy with Barber, stating that the legislature has to consider the perspective of law enforcement.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong when you are deciding these issues, with getting the opinion of law enforcement,” Simpson told 1819 News.  

“If something like that happens at one of my kids’ schools, I feel like teachers should be focused on taking care of the students. I don’t think teachers have indicated that they want to be vigilante justices, running around carrying guns and trying to get into gunfights and shootouts with individuals. In conversations that I’ve had with teachers and public-school employees, I don’t know that bringing more guns on campus is the answer.”

The recent shooting in Uvalde brought much criticism of law enforcement’s lack of response time, as well as law enforcement physically restraining parents who attempted to enter the building to retrieve their children.

The husband of one of the slain teachers attempted to enter the classroom where the gunman was after his wife called and told him she had been shot. Law enforcement stopped the man, who happened to be a police officer, from entering the classroom and relieved him of his weapon.

The response from many has been to suggest arming teachers and other staff to add additional protection.

Barber told 1819 News that he believes that the law enforcement response in Uvalde was not the norm in other school shootings. However, he did acknowledge that police inaction has occurred in some shootings.

“That response is not acceptable in our profession,” Barber told 1819 News.

The training of law enforcement is what Barber believes makes them more qualified to handle guns in a school.

Barber said, “How much training is adequate to put a pistol into a classroom. How much training would be relevant? One day? 40 hours? At what point do you say, ‘okay, they know how to use a firearm?’”

According to The Alabama Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission, Alabama officers must annually qualify with their handgun, shooting from various distances at a torso-sized target.

Barber believes that the 800 hours of training officers receive in understanding the application of deadly force, and other additional training, is invaluable to make law enforcement more qualified to address the issue.

He also believes that having multiple individuals with weapons will make it more difficult for law enforcement to identify the shooter.

“If you have {a teacher} going down the hallway and they got a gun in their hand, and law enforcement is in there, how do we discern who exactly is that shooter?” Barber said.

The Rand Corporation also noted that trained police officers had successfully hit their intended targets in just 18% of incidents involving an exchange of gunfire.

Barber acknowledged that the mere brandishing of a weapon was not sufficient to justify deadly force, but violent situations such as school shootings can be unpredictable.

“When you are in a volatile situation where shots are being fired, and there is death going on, and officers are often making split-second decisions; the vast majority of them are the proper decisions,” Barber said.

According to Barber, having a gun in the classroom would also make the classroom inherently more dangerous in the vast majority of cases where there isn’t an active shooter in the school.

“I think there’s a potential for those weapons that are secured in the classrooms to be compromised where students could gain access to them; or that they’re deployed when they don’t need to be deployed, and now we are, again, introducing a gun into a volatile situation,” Barber said.

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