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Blame guns, not teachers

If Indiana Gov.-elect Mike Pence's first reaction to the horrifying events in Newtown, Conn., is to call for an evaluation of school safety measures, it is, indeed, going to be a long four years for K-12 education.

While many pro-gun Democrats were acknowledging it is time to consider limits on gun ownership, most Republican lawmakers were keeping quiet. Pence should have joined them. In calling for an evaluation of school procedures, he instead dismissed the need for gun control and shifted responsibility to schools.

Educators – whose primary responsibility is teach – already are overburdened in handling whatever social problems students bring to their classrooms. They are de facto psychologists, mediators, health providers, social workers and more. They took on security responsibilities long before the shootings in Paducah or Columbine, locking down to guard against non-custodial parents seeking to kidnap a child or a gang member looking for revenge.

I was visiting a Southwest Allen County school during a lockdown drill a few years ago. The staff responded with efficiency and far more seriousness than I recall my own teachers ever displaying in response to tornado drills.

According to reports, the teachers and administrators in Newtown were well-versed in security measures because a prison is nearby. But while their training and selfless responses undoubtedly saved dozens of young lives, they couldn't save them all.

No school security routine can protect all children at all times. Students still gather in lunchrooms, play outside at recess and move from room to room through open hallways. Windowless classrooms and reinforced doors wouldn't protect children every moment of every day.

There are few schools still left unlocked during the school day, including Sandy Hook Elementary School. Adam Lanza reportedly broke a window or door to make his way into the school, but he could also have slipped in as children were entering or leaving for the day.

I'll give Pence some credit for not using the tragedy to suggest that teachers ought to be armed, but he's still missing the point.

What happened last week was not a school-safety problem; it was a gun problem – a semiautomatic Bushmaster .223 rifle problem, specifically.

If teachers and administrators in Newtown were willing to lay down their lives for their students, why shouldn't ordinary citizens be willing to lay down their assault weapons and rounds and rounds of ammunition to help keep our schools safe?

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at kfrancisco@jg.net.

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