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OPINION: Prepping properly for a school firefight

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By Forrest Berkshire, Editor

The closest I’ve ever come to a gunfight are some pitched paint-ball battles with my college buddies during our annual retreat we’ve been doing for well over a decade.

Those have taught me that even when paint balls start flying — which hurt badly but are not lethal — your body and mind react in ways they wouldn’t normally.

I got to thinking about those battles when reading about one proposal in Frankfort that would allow schools to designate teachers as “school marshals” and authorize them to keep firearms on school grounds. The idea goes, I suppose, that if a student brings a gun to school and starts shooting, then these teachers can return fire.

From my limited personal exposure, I know it’s much different firing at someone who is shooting back at you than it is shooting at a stationary target. But that experience didn’t seem to be a good basis for comparison.

So, I called a buddy who is a retired U.S. Army cavalry scout who retired as a first sergeant. I’m going to leave him unnamed and simply refer to him as “Top.” He served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as other conflicts during his service, and I knew he had been in firefights because he also has a Purple Heart. He is also a rock-ribbed Republican who owns several firearms.

Watching the footage filmed inside a Florida classroom while a shooter armed with an AR-15 rifle — a firearm designed for military needs — he seemed qualified to answer the question.

So I simply asked him: What’s it like when someone starts shooting at you?

He estimated he had been in six serious firefights, two of which he said he still thinks about often.

“Very surreal,” Top said. “There’s always that fight-or-flight instinct, whether you are trained or not.”

He told me of one fight where he and a squad were in a narrow, walled alley in Iraq one night when they started taking fire. They had no cover, and there was only what he described as an entrance to a “little goat alley” to get out. A man appeared in the doorway, and one of Top’s guys took him down immediately. They weren’t positive he was an enemy combatant, but he had showed up in a firefight and they had to either shoot him or take the chance he might shoot them. The decision was made in less than a second.

He said the battle seemed to last 30 minutes, but it was probably about five. Time compresses and you feel out of your body.

“During that time, the thinking in your head is that you could die,” he recalled.

Now, instead of six highly trained and armed soldiers in an Iraqi alleyway, think of a teacher who went through a concealed-carry class armed with a handgun in a school hallway facing off against a student armed with a semi-automatic rifle. Then think of the other children running away or appearing out of a doorway. Do we think that is the answer to making schools safer?

Top has thought about this a lot and how schools are “soft targets,” and when I asked him what he thought would help, he shared his own solution he’s been working out.

Don’t arm the teachers, he said.

“They’re kind of passive, anyway.”

Instead, his idea is to start arming the students. He figures we’ll start kindergartners off with wooden pistols and teach them proper gun safety. By first grade, they can have real guns, but “will obviously need close supervision.”

He figures by middle school they should all be range-qualified on rifles.

“You don’t give them a lot of rounds. I mean, you don’t go nuts with it,” he said.

He figures a couple hundred range-qualified and trained students who are constantly armed can take a shooter down almost instantly, and would probably be the most effective means of hardening these soft targets.

Of course, Top said it’s important to be responsible. The weapons would remain on the premises just like soldiers leave their rifles on post.

“I’m not saying go crazy and let them take it home, or anything.”

I warned Top that his proposal might seem a little extreme to some people. But what do I know? Once upon a time, giving teachers guns and telling them to kill their students if they have to seemed extreme to me.