MARSHALL, N.C. – When schools in one North Carolina county reopen later this month, new security measures will include stocking AR-15 rifles for school resource officers to use in the event of an active shooter.
Spurred by the elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 children and two teachers dead in May, school officials and Madison County Sheriff Buddy Harwood have placed one of the semiautomatic rifles in each of the county's six schools. Each of the guns will be locked inside a safe, Harwood said.
The North Carolina school district and sheriff's office are collaborating to enhance security after the Uvalde shooting revealed systemic failures and “egregiously poor decision-making,” resulting in more than an hour of chaos before the gunman was finally confronted and killed by law enforcement, according to a report written by an investigative committee from the Texas House of Representatives.
“Those officers were in that building for so long, and that suspect was able to infiltrate that building and injure and kill so many kids,” Harwood told the Asheville Citizen Times. “I just want to make sure my deputies are prepared in the event that happens.”
The idea of having AR-15s in schools does not sit well with Dorothy Espelage, a UNC Chapel Hill professor in the School of Education who has conducted decades of study and research on school safety and student well-being.
“What’s going to happen is we’re going to have accidents with these guns," Espelage told WLOS-TV. Just the presence of an SRO increases violence in the schools. There’s more arrests of kids. Why is it that they have to have these AR-15s? It doesn’t make any sense.”
Madison County Schools Superintendent Will Hoffman said school administrators have been meeting regularly with local law enforcement officials, including Harwood, to discuss the updated safety measures.
Harwood said the county’s school resource officers have been training with instructors from Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College.
Harwood said the safes where the AR-15s will be kept will also hold ammunition and breaching tools for barricaded doors.
“We’ll have those tools to be able to breach that door if needed. I do not want to have to run back out to the car to grab an AR, because that’s time lost. Hopefully we’ll never need it, but I want my guys to be as prepared as prepared can be," he said.
Schools are scheduled to reopen Aug. 22, according to the Madison County Schools website.
While the optics of school resource officers potentially handling AR-15s in schools may be discomforting to some, Harwood said he believes it is a necessary response.
“I hate that we’ve come to a place in our nation where I’ve got to put a safe in our schools, and lock that safe up for my deputies to be able to acquire an AR-15. But, we can shut it off and say it won’t happen in Madison County, but we never know,” Harwood said.