Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

March 28, 2014

MARK HEINIG: Guns in the school parking lot: a right or risk?

If Pence signs bill, schools could employ stricter security


Pharos-Tribune

---- — By MARK HEINIG

LOCAL COLUMNIST

Should licensed gun owners be allowed to take their weapons on to school parking lots if they keep them out of sight in a car’s locked glove box? The General Assembly said yes, despite the objections of school personnel and many other folks. Senate Bill 229 is now on Gov. Pence’s desk awaiting his signature or his veto. It won’t be an easy choice. He is bound to encounter opposition either way.

Whatever he decides probably won’t permanently resolve the issue. As an educator, I oppose allowing guns on school property in any way, at any time, by anyone who doesn’t have a badge as well as a gun. I realize the National Rifle Association supports this bill and could continue working for it if it fails now. I agree the NRA has a legitimate interest in protecting our right to bear arms. However, I don’t think we should cherish that right more than the safety of our children.

SB 229 is supposed to protect me from a felony charge if I forget I have a gun in my car on school property. How could I ever forget something like that? I have yet to meet a gun owner who has misplaced the weapon and can’t find it. It’s not like losing your car keys. If you own a gun, you know where it is! If you don’t, you have no business owning it in the first place.

SB 229 can endanger our kids, teachers and parents. There is no foolproof way to conceal a gun in an automobile glove box. Somebody besides the gun owner inevitably finds out about it. I love working with teenagers, but they don’t always use good judgment.

Unless you work for Brinks or Garda, you probably don’t drive an armored car. How difficult would it be for a thrill-seeking adolescent to break into your vehicle, force your glove box open and take your gun? If that happens, you lose control of the weapon. The young thief may use it to shoot you, a teacher, a parent or — God forbid — another teenager. I have had to attend far too many teenage funerals during my career. I don’t need any more of them!

If SB 229 becomes law, schools could be forced to impose much stricter security measures. I taught in one school out-of-state where security was a lot tighter than it usually is here. There was only one access point, and everyone was electronically screened under the supervision of a deputy sheriff. I felt like I was boarding an international flight instead of simply entering a school to teach there.

Nobody wants that much security, but we also don’t want to expose kids to unnecessary dangers. As a principal, I didn’t want to endanger my teachers and other staff members, either. I seldom met alone with parents or others, if they were likely to become upset. Whenever possible, I included a co-worker or postponed the meeting if one was not available. I encouraged my teachers to do that, too.

Most parents and other adults would never bring a gun to a meeting at school or to a school activity off campus. However, if any one of them loses his temper and happens to have a gun in his car, the situation may escalate beyond the school’s control. How can we identify that potentially angry person in time to prevent a tragedy?

Unfortunately, we can’t always do that. Sometimes our only reasonable option is to err on the side of caution and treat everyone as a possible threat. That adds a lot of stress to communication between parents, students and teachers. Stress can inhibit the development of trust. Often, the first step in helping troubled students is getting them to trust their teachers and parents.

Personally, I don’t own a gun and I don’t want one. Yet I respect the right of law-abiding adults with gun permits to possess guns and carry them. However, no one is entitled to do that when it could hurt somebody’s child. As the old saying goes, one guy’s right to swing his fist ends at the tip of the next guy’s nose!

Mark Heinig Jr. of Kokomo is a retired Indiana principal and teacher. Contact him at markjr1708@gmail.com.