In the halls of Congress and state capitals nationwide, politics rule the day. But closer to home where special interests seldom tread, politics sometimes give way to common sense. Lee County, Virginia, provides a good example in tweaking state noses.
In Lee County, where declining revenues from growing tobacco and mining coal have left little money for school resource officers, all five members of the school board voted for the county to become the first in the state to arm teachers and staff. That decision flies in the face of the state’s ban on guns in schools and leaves Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring between a rock and a hard place.
Lee County wants an exemption from the state law. Herring, caught off guard by the vote, is weighing his political options. Let’s hope he allows prudence to dictate what’s best for Lee. Either the state funds the 11 officers the county wants to protect students, or, it gets out of the way.
The Lee board had been talking informally about possibly arming teachers for more than a year before the Parkland, Florida, shooting that left 17 dead. Member Ron Hines said, “You can sit around and you can plan and you can think about things, but at some point, you’ve got to do something. We have a sworn duty to protect our children and our staff, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Herring’s spokesman, Michael Kelly, turned to political spin in saying he was troubled that the board “put so much time and effort into getting around the law and getting more guns into schools when the focus should clearly be on creating a safe, welcoming learning environment.” Of course, a safe environment is exactly what the Lee board seeks.
Hines said the board consulted extensively with attorneys. It plans to ask a circuit court judge to designate school employees who carry concealed guns or keep them in school safes to be “conservators of the peace,” a designation the board believes would exempt them from the law that bars guns on school property.
School board members declined to say how many staff members they would like to see armed. Hines said each person chosen would undergo a psychological evaluation and extensive firearm and tactical training.
The idea of arming teachers and faculty is worrisome, no matter the training. Funding the resource officer positions would be the preferable solution. But we also understand that the board wants to protect Lee County students.