Putting guns in schools has struck many as a radical suggestion since the Sandy Hook massacre. But in one rural Michigan township, the police chief has come up with a thoughtful, serious plan to do just that.
During his 33-year-career in law enforcement, Victor Pierce has seen the bodies of murdered children, and he’s struggled to reckon with it. After Sandy Hook, he felt compelled to do something, he says. So he decided to invite teachers and school administrators to participate in the reserve-officer-training program. After they’d completed the class, Pierce would swear them in as volunteer reserve officers, and if the school district gave its blessing, they could carry concealed weapons on campus.
“Edmund Burke said it so well: The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” Pierce says. “We are trying to make a difference. . . . Schools are in a weapons-free zone, and typically, that’s why a perpetrator [chooses them, taking] the path of least resistance. If he knows that there’s a soft target, he’ll reach that objective. You can put in all the locks and metal detectors you want. That’s not going to stop him from doing something sadistic or creating carnage. You need force.”
The training program takes place in Barry Township, a community 25 miles northeast of Kalamazoo with fewer than 4,000 inhabitants. Over the course of twelve weeks, enrollees get 60 hours of training about the law, application and use of force, defensive tactics, handgun use and safety, and other basics. The current class has 31 members, including two teachers and an administrator. Pierce plans to provide those who complete the program with ongoing training. Under Michigan state law, schools are gun-free zones, meaning that even residents with concealed-carry permits are not permitted to possess guns on campus. However, the federal Law Enforcement Officer Safety Act, signed by George W. Bush in 2004, exempts qualified law-enforcement officers from local and state prohibitions on the carrying of concealed firearms. The relation between the federal law and state law remains ambiguous, but Pierce has collaborated with the local school district, hoping to get its full blessing. His approach prepares teachers to protect their students, and it also ensures their legal status as law-enforcement officers.
Pierce and trainees at the Delton District Library
Last week, during practice in the Delton District Library, Pierce taught his enrollees to clear a large room. Armed with plastic decoy pistols, the trainees broke into groups of four, each of which clustered in a diamond formation, which gives them a tactical advantage. Covering each other, they rushed through the door, searching for the “shooter,” played by a young volunteer officer. They learned to disarm and apprehend him while minimizing the risk to themselves and any bystanders. Pierce shouted out commands, running his students through repeated drills. He takes it seriously, and it rubs off on his students, who study hard.
Pierce’s idea has many significant merits. Only the most extreme gun opponents want to see police disarmed. By having school employees serve as reserve officers, Pierce legitimizes their choice to bear weapons to protect their students.