How do we protect kids in schools?

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During a newsroom discussion about guns about a decade ago, a woman piped up: “I don’t understand what the big deal is. I’m from Santa Rosa. We grew up with guns.”

In New Mexico and other rural states, we begin the discussion from different sides of the fence. In the country, a gun is a tool used to hunt and protect livestock against varmints. In the city, the varmints are two-legged.

Since the nightmarish shootings in Connecticut, the arguments and analyses fly back and forth like an Old Western shoot-out, which leads me to a few observations.

First, gun ownership is a personal decision. I lived for eight years in a tough neighborhood where people kept telling me I should have a gun. I had a young son and chose not to. I did keep an ax handle next to the door and a tire iron on the nightstand, and never had occasion to use either. My son told me as an adult, “It’s a good thing you didn’t have a gun, because I would have found it.”

Still, I wouldn’t have blamed any of my neighbors for keeping guns, especially after a police SWAT team surrounded the house across the street.

On the subject of personal decisions, the silence of the right-to-life people is curious. It’s easier to hassle some poor woman at an abortion clinic who’s made a decision about her circumstances than it is to enter the larger discussion of preserving life in a violent world.

The NRA’s CEO Wayne LaPierre wants armed police in every school. My colleague Merilee Dannemann recently asked how schools and governments fit this cost into strained budgets, and a wire service analysis concluded that LaPierre is more concerned with the profits of gun manufacturers than he is with the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

Our discussions of the Second Amendment are usually talk show rants by people who haven’t picked up a history book in years, if ever. Our Founding Fathers addressed the concerns of their day, and “arms” were not semiautomatic weapons with banana clips. The same talk-show hype has driven up gun sales in the Farmington area because some have been led to believe the president will confiscate guns, despite the total absence of evidence or inclination.

So how do we protect kids in school? There are dangers other than the armed nutcase: gangs, the estranged parent bent on abducting a child, child molesters and drug dealers hovering nearby, and even kids who bring guns to school in their backpacks.

We already have armed cops in some schools in New Mexico. Utah has offered arms training to teachers, which leads to questions of logistics. Do they keep their weapons in a drawer, accessible to little fingers? In a locked cabinet, where it’s useless if an Adam Lanza bursts into the classroom?

The schools aren’t unprepared, but they need to improve procedures. I was once tutoring a girl when her school held a practice lockdown. It meant we were locked in a classroom. I felt like a sitting duck.

Maybe we are now ready to have a long overdue discussion about guns and reasonable self-defense. We start to have it with each Columbine, Aurora and Newtown, and then somebody claims reformers are politicizing tragedy.

New Mexico has a Baby Brianna Law that toughened child-abuse penalties and a Katie’s Law to allow DNA testing of felony suspects. Lately the governor has proposed Dimitri’s Law to tighten up the state’s DWI laws. All were driven by some family’s dreadful loss. Isn’t this politicizing tragedy?

It often takes a horrific crime to provoke public discussion, put new laws on the books, and give law enforcement tools and training. Go ahead. Politicize this tragedy.