Kansas School District Arms Officers With Rifles

A Smith & Wesson 15T Tactical rifle, like the ones purchased by the district officers.
A Smith & Wesson 15T Tactical rifle, like the ones purchased by the district officers.mfg photo

When some hear that a school district’s police department has issued semi-automatic rifles, they question the necessity and even the very logic.

In this story from the Kansas City Star, Shawnee Mission school district Director of safety and security John Douglass, puts the reasons for a rifle in a school into stark contrast.

The story said he pointed to a sitting area during the paper's interview with him that was about 25 feet away, telling the reporter that is the distance a trained police officer can typically shoot a target with accuracy using a sidearm.

“Next, he points to a door farther down the hallway—a distance still much shorter than the typical hallway at Shawnee Mission school.

“‘To expect that I could stop somebody with a pistol from here to there…’ He doesn’t finish his sentence.”

It’s true that the Kubrickian hallways in some large schools present ranges that far exceed the capability of most duty handguns when center-mass accuracy is required.

Douglass says in the story the rising threat of active shooter situations is the reason the district police department has issued eight semi-auto Smith & Wesson AR-style rifles to its district resource officers at a cost of $5,671.

Those officers, however, are not a reaction to recent school shootings, and have operated separately from municipal police forces since 1972, the story says They are responsible for security across the entire district, help school resource officers in their duties, and are based in schools and are tasked with protecting students.

"This weapon is a very serious weapon for some very limited circumstances," Douglass said in the story. He previously served as the chief of the Overland Park Police Department. "You are never going to see it unless something really, really bad is happening."

The rifles were purchased in 2015, but a recent local news story about the guns have a number of parents upset to learn the district even has the rifles.

“The news angered some parents who were unnerved by the presence of assault weapons on school campuses. Some parents questioned their effectiveness as a safety measure.”

It should be pointed out that the story repeatedly refers to them as semi-automatic rifles, and then also refers to them as “assault weapons,” which are, by definition, fully automatic.

"I don't fully believe on person with a bigger, badder gun is really going to make a huge difference in an active shooter situation in a school," parent Lisa Veglahn said in the story. "Why did they feel it was necessary over other types of weapons?"

Some parents are upset, but others point out the necessity for resource officers to have the tools needed to keep their children safe.
Some parents are upset, but others point out the necessity for resource officers to have the tools needed to keep their children safe.web photo

It’s clear Veglahn has never gone up against an adversary armed with a rifle while she was only armed with a pistol. When an opponent has basically an unlimited effective range inside a building and your gun is only accurate out to about 25 feet, it can make quite a bit of difference.

Others were upset about the cost.

"It's pretty offensive to me as a taxpayer to feel like you don't have any voice and you are being excluded from decisions that could harm your child or kill them," said Melissa Patt, the parent of three students in the Shawnee Mission School District, in the story. "What else could we be spending our tax dollars on and getting the same safety results? Or is there evidence that it's worth it?"

Patt did not elaborate on how rifles in the custody of trained police officers could somehow “harm or kill” students.

Other parents, however, praised the decision to have rifles accessible to school police.

"While we will continue to hope and pray that these weapons are never needed and can continue to be locked in a safe, what if they are?" Shawnee Mission parent Matt Trusty wrote in a Facebook post quoted in the story. "I would hope that in the event a real threat arose the person(s) deemed with keeping my children safe would have the tools and training to be able to do their job."

Douglass said in the story that the rifles are usually kept secured in district police officers' vehicles. School resource officers based in schools and employed by the municipality or county have routinely kept rifles secured in their cars, as most officers do while on patrol, Douglass said in the story.

"These officers are trained to take action in high-stress situations," said Trevor Rine in the story. He graduated from Shawnee Mission Northwest last year. "If any active shooter was to come to a school and want to cause harm, I believe it's important for our officers to have the best weapons possible to handle the situation."

The story says most school districts in the county don't have to make the decision about rifles, because many of the officers who patrol the schools already have access to them as members of local police departments.