Rural educators rely on guns to protect schools

Organizations such as the National Association of Secondary School Principals recommend districts hire a school resource officer instead of arming staff members
By: | Issue: August, 2015
July 20, 2015

Superintendents in rural districts across America are increasingly making the controversial choice to carry a concealed weapon at school, in order to protect students from potential threats.

To call Saco School District in northeast Montana “rural” is an understatement. The entire district is composed of one school building with 50 students. The sheriff’s department that patrols the town of 250 people is located 30 miles away from the school.

Saco sits just off of a major highway 40 miles from the Canadian border, and near a train station. “The odds of a transient or someone that would come from across the border is high here,” says Superintendent Gordon Hahn. “It’s extremely problematicÑwe would never see law enforcement here in time should we have a serious situation or an active shooter.”

This being the case, Hahn has carried a concealed revolver for the past three years. He’s not alone: Rural districts in Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma and Missouri have made headlines in the past two years for allowing staff members to carry weapons.

Almost all states and the District of Columbia prohibit guns in K12 schools, but only 39 states apply this prohibition to people with concealed-carry permits, according to the Law Center on Gun Violence. Most states allow school staff members with concealed-carry permits to bring a weapon to school if they are granted permission from the school board or chief administrative officer.

The school board approved Hahn’s weapon, so long as he keeps his concealed carry permit up to date and undergoes training. “My weapon is always concealed, and about 90 percent of kids don’t know I carry,” Hahn says. “They never see it, and that’s important. It’s just there for that one in a million chance I need it, and other than that it’s out of sight and out of mind.”

Organizations such as the National Association of Secondary School Principals recommend districts hire a school resource officer instead of arming staff members. But in districts such as Saco, there is little criminal activity among the few students, and the budget is too small to hire an officerÑand there would not be much work for them on a daily basis, Hahn says.

Even in states where laws have been passed allowing weapons in schools, districts have the final say on staff members carrying guns.