posted by Charles L. Cotton on Dec 18

In the wake of the tragic Newtown massacre of 20 innocent first grade children and six adults, as a society we have to ask ourselves  “do we really want safe schools?”  The obvious answer is yes, but if we really mean it, then we must be ready to pass the necessary legislation and provide funding.

There are basically two ways to make our schools safer and each takes a dramatically different approach.  One amounts to the “gold standard” but it is incredibly expensive, while the other is less effective, but it is virtually cost-free.  If either of these methods are implemented, our precious children have a realistic chance of surviving the rampage of a would-be mass murderer.

Secured limited-access to school buildings

The first method involves truly securing school buildings such that unauthorized entry is virtually impossible.  To do this, every entry into a school building must be through double access doors.  These doors must contain bullet resistant glass that will withstand all 30 caliber rifle rounds with minimal damage and offering no opportunity to enter the building even when shattered.  These doors must also have high security locking mechanisms that are electrically controlled from a position inside the second door.  Standard commercial grade locks are not sufficient for this purpose.

The distance between the outer secured door in the inner secured door must be large enough to house metal detectors that everyone entering the building will have to pass through before being allowed to pass through the inner secured door.  Armed police officers must be stationed inside both the outer and the inner secure doors and the officer inside the innermost a secured door should also be armed with a 30 caliber semiautomatic rifle in the event the assailant is wearing body armor.

The procedure for entering the school would require that students, faculty and staff present their school identification cards to pass through the outer secured door.  Once within the secure buffer zone, each person would then go through metal detectors and their backpacks, briefcases, and any other packages would pass through an x-ray machine.  Once cleared, the officer manning the inner secured door can open the inner door to allow entry.  A faster alternative for larger schools would require the use of large revolving doors for the inner buffer zone that would allow more students to enter  each segment.  The doors would have to be constructed from the same bullet resistant glass and the officer guarding this door must be able to lock electronically by pressing a button.

The purpose of the two secure doors is to create an enclosed area that would serve both as a security buffer zone and as a deterrent to anyone who would attempt to enter the school with weapons.  If a would-be murderer were to gain access to the outer door by the use of a fake ID, or by following an authorized person and forcing his way in, he would be trapped in the security buffer zone.  The officer stationed within the security buffer zone should be able to neutralize the threat either by making an arrest or by engaging the armed intruder.  In a worst case scenario, if the officer is wounded or killed the armed intruder would be trapped and no escape would be possible.  While there could be innocent students, faculty or staffed also trapped, the number of potential victims would be greatly limited.  The close proximity of the potential victims to the assailant could also provide the opportunity for the assailant to be overwhelmed and disarmed, but this would hinge on the age and number of people within the buffer zone.

Double entry doors and a secure buffer zone are not the only changes that would be required.  Interior classroom doors need to be made of steel and they must be self-locking that can be opened from inside the classroom simply by pushing on a bar.   Entry from the outside will require a key or “smart card.”  The same bullet resistant glass must be in a window in the door, but it should be no more than 3 to 4 inches wide so that even if it were broken, the gap would be too small for an assailant to gain entry into the classroom.  Bullet resistant glass would also have to be used in all classroom windows and those windows could only be opened from inside the classroom.

At this point, you’re probably thinking that the above-described proposal is going to be shockingly expensive.  You are right, it will be incredibly expensive.  However, if the tragedy in Newtown is going to be the catalyst for discussion of school safety, then we need to discuss methods that can truly render our schools safe, not placebos such as gun control or mental health bogeymen.

Armed Teachers and Staff

The only other realistic alternative is to allow teachers and staff that have a concealed handgun license to carry handguns in school.  If the school opts to do so, it could provide additional training to teachers and staff wishing to carry handguns in school, so long as the school provides this training at no expense to its personnel.  It is quite likely that local police departments and sheriff departments will be more than happy to create training programs for such persons and provide the training at little or no cost to the school district.

Armed teachers and staff should be the last line of defense for the children, therefore reasonable steps should also be taken to secure the campus against unauthorized entry and the self-locking steel doors should be installed on each classroom.

Campus-Police Are Not Enough

Some will argue that it is not necessary to spend the millions of dollars required to create truly secure campuses as set out in the first alternative, or to authorize teachers and staff to carry handguns in school as set out in the second alternative.  The solution that will be offered is to simply require police officers to be present  in all schools.

While having police officers present is desirable, this alone is insufficient.  Schools that do have police officers  on campus typically have only one or two officers available to respond to threats.  This is insufficient even in a small school that has more than one entrance to the building and it is grossly inadequate in large schools that resemble junior colleges in their size and breadth.

Assuming the police officer is not killed attempting to protect students, it is quite likely that the presence of one or two officers will merely reduce the body count.  When we’re talking about our children, there is no such thing as an acceptable casualty rate.  If the lone officer is killed or incapacitated by the assailant, the students are defenseless and the tragedy at Newtown will be repeated.


We have a choice that must be made and it should be made during the 2013 Texas legislative Session.  We can accept the fact that school shootings are quite rare and do nothing.  Unfortunately, attacks on our schools may not remain rare in view of the extensive media coverage that actually encourages other would-be mass murderers to commit these atrocities to gain their a “15 minutes of fame.”  Regardless of the frequency however, to many Texans (this writer included) crossing our collective fingers and hoping for the best is unacceptable.

As noted previously, there are only two alternate methods of providing a reasonable level of security for our children.  The gold standard is to create a truly secure campus, but the cost of doing so will be staggering and beyond the financial capability of most school districts unless federal assistance is available.  Allowing licensed teachers and staff to carry handguns in school as they do everywhere outside of the school building, combined with self-locking classroom doors will establish a viable last line of defense for our children.

None of us like the idea of having to turn our schools into buildings that resemble a federal reserve bank or arming teachers and staff so they can prevent our sons and daughters from being butchered.  Sadly, for reasons not relevant to this article, this is the reality of the world in which we live.


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