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North Carolina sheriff stocking schools with AR-15 rifles

The safes where the AR-15s will be kept will also hold ammunition and breaching tools for barricaded doors


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Associated Press

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.”

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.

[RELATED: Sheriff Don Barnes on how a School Mobile Assessment and Resource Team is averting violence]

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.

[RELATED: Deputies to carry rifles on school campuses, Fla. sheriff says]

Police1 readers respond

  • I think this is a step in the right direction. It is also a “response” to school shootings. I don’t think any person has all of the answers, but I feel this is a great beginning. I have seen shopping malls with auxiliary police stations in them with one to three officers. I think something similar to this for the resource officer’s office would be nice with a safe, body armor and ballistic helmets for a few officers and a small variety of lethal and less lethal weapons and ammo would be ideal. But we need to take into account the size of the school, student/staff number and budget. Also running drills and ensuring officers have adequate training on all equipment. I do feel this is a great start.

  • An inexpensive step in the right direction.

  • I don’t understand the obsession with black plastic stocks. Did the sheriff’s office evaluate other rifles, e.g., M1 carbines, Ruger Mini-M14s, M1As, etc., and decide on the AR15? If so, it would be interesting to learn why they think the AR15 is better suited.

  • Regarding one response above, I’d suspect the reason the sheriff selected an AR platform is a familiarity with that particular rifle from either LE or military experience. Given that some shooters are wearing body armor, I understand the need for a round capable of penetrating that armor. One piece of gear I’d rather see even before the rifles is to place a rifle-rated ballistic shield in each school. In Uvalde, the officers retreated as soon as they came under fire. An appropriate shield can be used by the SRO alone with a handgun (preferably equipped with a visible laser sight), or with the rifle with a second deputy. Proper training with the shield would likely result in a quicker response time to the active shooter than just the AR alone.

[RELATED: Ballistic shields can improve officer safety]

  • We did this years ago in our schools. We have safes with electric combinations that are all the same code (key back up) so an SRO or patrol officer can access them.

  • I believe that this is a great idea. In active shooter situations, time is of the essence. The threat to the children and staff needs to be eliminated immediately. I assume that the sheriff has plans in place for all the school resource officers and their reliefs and this plan was well thought out with school officials. In my opinion, this will make those who wish to hurt children think twice before they act or their last ride will be to the morgue in a body bag. Kudos to you, Sheriff Harwood!

  • Not good enough, sheriff, and totally misplaced idea. If the SRO has to run to the safe first and then access the weapon, the shooter is already killing victims. He or she should have armor-piercing ammo in their handgun and rifle in case the shooter is wearing body armor. Make the schools HARD TARGETS first. Then, if the shooter DOES get in, they’re met with surefire firepower to eliminate them. Give them NO quarter! Shoot to kill, preferably a headshot! When shooters start falling around the country maybe the message will get out; don’t f$#% with our children; nursery, elementary, middle, high school or college!

  • I like the idea, but what if it’s the school resource officer’s day off? Who will have the key to get to the rifle safe if there is a shooting or incident at the school requiring breaching tools? Maybe this department should have a key card that opens the safe for other department officers that may need to respond to the scene.

[RELATED: Breaching tools for every officer]

  • I’m sure that should that particular safety officer is on vacation, there would be others available to take their place, for a day or a week. I’m sure the principal would have the key also and have some training on that weapon! And to those naysayers out there, if you’d have taught your kids to be RESPONSIBLE for other human beings at home, we wouldn’t have as many of these shootings. And please will the media STOP sensationalizing these tragedies!

  • How about we make this a less-bad idea and go with something that isn’t 3300 fps? If you’re going to have weapons in a school, that’s a horrible choice for reasons that should be obvious.

  • This is probably the most common sense idea I have seen up to this point, congratulations!

  • To address one comment above, a large fraction of officers shot on duty are shot with their own weapons hence armor piercing ammunition is a bad choice. Also, who cares what color the plastic on the rifle is? The modern AR is more reliable and ergonomic than the mini 14 and the m1 carbine. This is a good decision, but I’d also like to see a ballistic shield available.

  • Uvalde wasn’t about equipment and a focus on equipment isn’t going to move the needle much. Putting good people who will react quickly and appropriately into the schools is the key. It’s what would have made a difference in Uvalde and in Parkland. It did make a difference in St. Mary’s, Maryland. SRO positions are very appealing to people who want something easy. Departments must work to ensure that they choose SROs based on who will do the best job, not who wants it most.

  • There are available trained and battle-tested retired military and law enforcement personnel. My suggestion is there is not enough time to go to a gun locker. Refit a room into a turret centrally located with cameras and the armed officer(s). A single officer will be overpowered and outgunned in some incidents, especially when multiple shooters breach a school. No excuse to not protect our schools!

  • I agree with the North Carolina sheriff 100%, ALL schools in ALL states need to follow suit.

  • So instead of running back to the car, the officer has to run to a part of the school the rifle is kept. Seems like a silly idea not to have the weapon available in the patrol car for all-around use. Certainly, if an officer gets the call for a school shooting, they will take the rifle with them when entering?

  • The individual who made the point about the need to make the schools hard target first and foremost was spot on. While having an AR platform (AR-15 or M4) to help fight bad guys is an appropriate weapon, the SRO needs the time to retrieve the weapon which, in and of itself, can take some time. The SRO must then find and stop the shooter or shooters. Hardening the perimeter of the schools prohibits the ability of bad people to gain easy and rapid entry, which buys value time for law enforcement and allows a lockdown to occur before the shooter can gain interior access. Policymakers need to understand that dynamic events unfold in seconds and not minutes.

  • I think that it’s a step in the right direction. I also agree that unfortunately, it has come to a time in our world that school police/SROs must have the right equipment in order to neutralize a threat that is attempting to cause serious bodily injury or even death. Our agency has been pushing our school board to allow long rifles or guns for our department to be prepared in case there is ever an active shooter situation in our schools.

  • It is important to remember that most law enforcement officers are not “crack shots” or “gun guys.” I have been a law enforcement firearms instructor for 36 years, and I can tell you that most street officers and SROs don’t get the amount of practice necessary to keep their skills sharp. The duty handgun we carry is a matter of convenience, and the purpose of it is to fight our way to a better tool with which to stop the fight. AR platform, Mini-14/M1-A/Garand platform, etc. doesn’t matter as much as getting familiar with and training (a lot!) with the given weapon. In light of recent events, perhaps weapons proficiency should be viewed as part of the SRO selection process. Remember, “It’s the warrior, not the weapon.”

  • Treat the position as a specialized unit, not some place to retire, and both the officers and the results will be better. Please take a look at terminal ballistics; .223/5.56 duty ammo tends to penetrate LESS than handgun rounds, despite being able to penetrate soft armor.

  • I believe one of the most effective ways to protect students is to replace wooden classroom doors with sturdy bullet-resistant doors that a teacher can secure from the inside. All exterior doors should be secured with a designated single entrance that is electronically controlled and requires entering through two separate locked doors. The SRO’s duties should be defined. Some schools use the SRO to teach in the classroom. This defeats the purpose of having an officer in the school readily available to confront the threat. Police chiefs and sheriffs should also address the fire alarm issue. Our newly built high school has a fire alarm system that automatically opens all exterior doors when a fire alarm is pulled. There have been instances when the fire alarm system was used to create a target-rich environment. The most effective and least expensive solution is to secure the classrooms and train the teachers to secure their rooms to protect the students.

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