North Carolina county puts AR-15s in every school

AP Photo/Lisa Marie Pane

Most of the time when we write about armed school staff, we’re covering a school district that has trained and vetted employees who have volunteered to carry a firearm while on the job. In Madison County, North Carolina, however, the county sheriff has put a new twist on the idea of having an armed response to an active shooter threat: putting AR-15s and gun safes in every school building.

“Every day you turn on the TV and somebody’s been shot, somebody’s been stabbed, somebody’s been murdered, raped,” Madison County Sheriff Buddy Harwell said when he announced the initiative in a five-minute Facebook video in June.

“We live in Western North Carolina, a rural county, but we’ve got to be prepared even in our rural counties for the enemy when he tries to come in and destroy our children.”

Marshall, the county seat, is about 150 miles northwest of Charlotte.

The sheriff’s initiative gained national media attention on Friday after Asheville news outlets reported on the AR-15s, including that county school officials were ready to welcome the firearms.

… On Facebook in June, Harwell said county commissioners “pledged to purchase strong, durable gun safes so these weapons can be secured in an undisclosed location at each school.”

County residents privately donated money for the rifles, optics and accessories, the sheriff said.

The school district is on board. Parents are behind the idea. In fact, it seems the only folks who have a problem with the county’s plan are the usual suspects.

Allison Anderman, senior counsel and director of local policy at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said the response to the country’s “unique epidemic of gun violence” is “horrific.”

“Where there are more guns, there is more gun violence,” Anderman said.

Efforts to bring more weapons into schools for gun violence prevention distracts from the real issue, according to Anderman. “We need to make it much harder for people who are intent on doing harm and committing violence to access guns in the first place,” she said.

Anderman said students in the district are “much more likely” to be killed by guns from acts of domestic violence, interpersonal community violence, suicide or accidental shootings.

“Those are the real risks that guns pose to students on a daily basis,” she said. “If they want to make their students safer, they should be advocating for the solutions that we know work, like expanded background checks, extreme-risk protection order laws, waiting periods, safe storage, etc.”

None of those gun control laws can or will stop someone committed to ending as many innocent lives as possible, especially once they’ve walked through the schoolhouse door. Still, gun control activists just can’t bring themselves to acknowledge that having an armed response to an active shooter on a school campus is a good thing.

Andy Pelosi, co-founder and executive director of the Campaign to Keep Guns off Campus, told USA TODAY he doesn’t think adding the high-powered firearms to campuses would make a difference in an active-shooter situation.

“We saw the firepower that responding law enforcement had in Uvalde, and they still didn’t breach the door for over over an hour,” Pelosi said.

Both he and Anderman expressed concerns that a person other than a deputy or school resource officer would gain access to the locked safe.

Pelosi said schools should plan for worst-case scenarios, but that the focus of gun violence prevention should be shifted to how shooters are accessing the weapons.

“Part of this discussion has to be, ‘where are the young people doing these acts getting their weapons?”’ he said. “We should be banning military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.”

Gun bans don’t stop these types of attacks, though they do infringe on the rights of law-abiding citizens. The shooting at Columbine High School, for instance, took place in the middle of the 10-year ban on so-called assault weapons that was in place from 1994 to 2004, so the idea that we can ban our way to safety has already been proven false.

What the sheriff and school district are trying to do here is to work within the confines of reality. They’re not trying to turn Madison County gun-free, because that will never happen. They’re just looking for the fastest response possible if there ever is an armed threat on a school campus. It’s true, as Pelosi points out, that officers in Uvalde waited over an hour to breach the door of the classroom at Robb Elementary where the killer lurked inside, but that doesn’t mean that every law enforcement agency will respond in that same fashion. In fact, one of the reasons that Sheriff Harwell wants his deputies to be able to access AR-15s inside the schools is to take away the excuse that deputies didn’t have enough “firepower” to immediately confront the attacker.

We can all hope that there’s never a reason to put these rifles to use for their intended purpose, but if their presence enables law enforcement to swiftly secure a campus and put an end to an unthinkable attack on school grounds, I’m all for it. I’m not surprised to see the gun control lobby express their displeasure with the idea, but it’s definitely worth pointing out the lengths of their anti-gun extremism.