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School security an arms race?

Published January 31. 2013 4:00AM

The $73 million that Newtown Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson proposes spending next year includes $165,200 for eight guards who would help prevent a repeat of the Dec. 14 horror at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

This newspaper accepts that across the country, if not the world, school districts are preparing to pay more not just for books and teachers but also for heavier security - particularly in Newtown, where a lone gunman armed with a semi-automatic assault-style rifle and two handguns blasted his way into the school and killed 20 first-graders and six educators.

We agree that authorities have a responsibility for the safety of those inside school buildings and fully understand why many parents, teachers and students support the added expenditures.

We nonetheless urge restraint and thoughtful deliberation before resorting to such measures as extra guards and extensive electronic security upgrades.

Simply put, there's no clear evidence guards or any system can deter a determined crazed killer or killers. An armed security officer had been stationed inside Colorado's Columbine High School and another one was nearby in 1999 when two students went on a shooting rampage that killed 15 people and wounded 23 others.

We fear turning any school into a seemingly impregnable fortress not only creates a false sense of security but also risks promoting an escalating arms race of sorts among school districts.

And if all schools involved in such a misguided mission were somehow perceived as invincible to attack, who's to say deranged assailants would simply choose softer targets, such as more lightly guarded nursing homes or shopping malls?

This newspaper therefore was pleased to see that the Newtown Board of Education, which discussed Superintendent Robinson's proposed spending plan Tuesday night, decided to hold off making any decisions about the extra guards until a separate committee has had time to evaluate the projected efficacy. Other school districts should exercise similar caution.

In this vein, we agree with the approach being taken by the state legislature, for which a special Bipartisan Task Force on Gun Violence Prevention and Children's Safety has been conducting extensive, often impassioned public hearings to overflow crowds.

After separate subcommittee sessions devoted to possible law and policy changes affecting gun violence, school safety and mental health, the full 52-member panel had its final scheduled informational public hearing Wednesday night at Newtown High School.

The group plans to present a report with any suggested legislation to the Connecticut General Assembly by the end of the month.

Congress also is about to consider tougher federal gun laws, including reinstituting a ban on so-called assault weapons, limiting the size of bullet magazines and requiring extensive background checks of all gun purchasers.

These are all worthwhile proposals, as are demands for stricter enforcement of existing laws, improving mental health services and ramping down the glorification of violence that has contaminated our culture.

Gun violence is a complex problem that won't be mitigated by simple solutions. Local, state and national governments all are developing plans, and at this point we can say that everyone seems to agree only on one point: Something has to be done.

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