A mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas,...

A mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, in 2022, has led school officials to wonder whether an armed guard on the scene could have stopped the carnage. Credit: AP

At least 20 school districts on Long Island, out of more than 120 in all, have hired or plan to hire armed guards. This is in response to the kind of deranged gun violence sporadically visited on students and teachers in recent years across America.

The total comes from a Newsday analysis of information provided by the districts. Security decisions such as arming personnel largely fall to the localities. Predicting where and when the next disaster will occur is obviously difficult if not impossible. It’s reasonable for those making these decisions to worry in both directions.

For one, they must estimate how much the guns now on school property might risk accidents and fiascoes, perhaps depending on the experience of those handling them. On the other side of the scale, administrators have been reflecting on what happened in Uvalde, Texas and Nashville, Tennessee, to face up to how an armed guard on the scene might have stopped the carnage that led to a combined 27 deaths, mostly children, just from those two massacres.

Previous attacks have varied by shooter and by school. Before any homicidal eruption, in school or otherwise, the role of mental health, a school’s access to outsiders, and parent involvement should always have been assessed. But no conclusive numbers would exist to show what was prevented — or what didn’t happen — as a result of wise policies to get at the root cause of a person’s problems. So it is impossible to quibble with the general statement of Bob Vecchio, executive director of the Nassau-Suffolk School Boards Association: “If it was a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to worry about this, but we do. It’s a sad reality but it is the reality.”

As those on school boards know, the decision to have an armed presence on school campuses leads into other questions of how responsibly to do it. Are outside contractors the way to go? Direct hiring of law enforcement officers? How many personnel are needed and how much security is practically affordable? Dollar costs vary.

State law gives school officials general guidance. Districts employing security guards must file a certificate for liability insurance under the General Business Law. Other laws apply to the quality of security guards and, of course, the use and carriage of firearms. School resource officers must have special training in policing schools. The districts must sign explicit contracts or memos of understanding that clearly define the roles those officers must play. And proper school security plans must be carried out in coordination with local police.

That said, armed guards are no panacea to active-shooter attacks, as advisable as some school boards and parents might find them. Nobody can blame officials for thinking they may be needed for a day we all hope will not come. Those in charge who think it best should proceed — but with every caution in mind.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.

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