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NRA stance too simplistic, O.C. school officials say
By SCOTT MARTINDALE



Orange County school officials have called the National Rifle Association's stance on protecting students from gun violence impractical and overly simplistic, saying that installing armed guards on every campus won't solve the broader challenges of improving school safety.

Still, local officials said the NRA's position is just one of many national perspectives – along with state and local ones – that officials should be considering as campus safety issues are revisited in the coming weeks.

"There isn't one simple answer," Orange County schools Superintendent Al Mijares said. "To think you're just going to have someone at the door with a firearm and that's the end of the discussion, there's more to it than that. It also requires people working together and creating a network of safety among parents, teachers, support staff and students."

After a weeklong silence following the Connecticut school shootings, the National Rifle Association on Friday called for a program to arm and train guards in schools as the best way to protect children from gun violence.

Armed police officers in all American schools will be needed to stop the next killer "waiting in the wings," the NRA declared Friday as calls for gun control have increased after the Newtown, Conn., shootings that claimed the lives of 26 children and school staff.

Orange County officials said that, rather than hiring more armed guards, schools must work to foster a campus culture where students feel safe and supported and to proactively address students' emotional and mental challenges.

In Santa Ana Unified, the county's largest school district, a district police team of 24 armed, sworn officers and 38 non-armed security guards patrols the district's campuses. It's by far the biggest campus security agency among K-12 school districts in Orange County.

Even so, staffing every Santa Ana Unified campus with a full-time officer armed with a gun would not only be cost-prohibitive, but also would not address the underlying predicament of how to improve campus safety, said district Trustee John Palacio.

"The issue isn't that we need armed personnel; our banks have armed personnel and they're still robbed," Palacio said. "It's that we just need to be better prepared to handle emergency situations and have strong relationships with our sworn and non-sworn personnel."

Palacio said that the district's $6.7 million annual police budget would more than double if it were to assign an armed officer to every campus. Also, allowing non-sworn volunteers to carry guns would pose too much of a legal liability to the district, Palacio said.

Some local school officials expressed disappointment Friday at what they said was an oversimplified and insensitive approach by the NRA to addressing safety in schools.

Michael Stone, a trustee for the California Teachers Association, said gun-rights advocates should be coming together with video game makers, Hollywood producers and other stakeholders to address the broader issues of violence in American culture.

"I was kind of shocked at the comments by the NRA; I felt they were off base and incredibly insensitive to the victims of the tragedy," said Stone, an Aliso Viejo Middle School math teacher.

At the same time, Stone said, "They do have a role to play in this because of the boarder discussion about gun safety and gun control. I would welcome that they are part of it."

Anna Bryson, a trustee for Capistrano Unified, the county's second-largest school district, said she examined the NRA's stance Friday with great interest. She's an NRA member and grew up in a household of gun owners.

"We have made schools gun-free zones, weapons-free zones, and all of the people who have evil intent are aware of it," Bryson said. "I don't think that people with evil intent should have that comfort level. If they walk through our doors, they should be wondering, 'Is there someone there who could harm me first?'"

Bryson said she's looking forward to having more discussion about the issue and hearing from her constituents. Capistrano district staff is researching issues related to how often armed deputies are present on the district's campuses and the feasibility of the district allowing employees to bring concealed weapons onto campuses, Bryson said.

"People in California have their own views, but it's important to hear the other side of the concern and the realities," Bryson said. "I'm open to thoughts and inputs from all of my constituents."

Karen Yelsey, a trustee for the Newport-Mesa Unified School District who participated in a district roundtable last week about campus safety, said that while the ongoing school safety discussions shouldn't focus on the gun issue alone, they certainly should include the topic.

"There are some people out there who might want to voluntarily carry a gun on campus, and that's what we have to look at," Yelsey said. "We should take into account the input of every resource we can get."

Register wire services contributed to this report.

Contact the writer: 714-796-7802 or smartindale@ocregister.com or Twitter: @MartindaleScott






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