Hammond says massacre risk too slight to shut down schools

Sheriff Jim Hammond chats with people in the audience prior to a school board meeting Thursday in Hamilton County’s barbed-wire fence-protected administrative compound. (Photo David Tulis)

Sheriff Jim Hammond refuses to order a shutdown of Hamilton County public schools even though he describes them as being subject to a “type of war” — the gunman killing a son or daughter “every three seconds“ at random before either he is slain 15 minutes later or blows out his own brains.

By David Tulis / 92.7 NoogaRadio

The county’s most powerful man speaks to school board members and the press Thursday and strongly defends the constitutional concept of an armed citizenry, whose members would act quickly to stop a massacre moments after it begins.

A reporter picks up on Mr. Hammond’s violent descriptions. “Because they are so dangerous and like a battlefield,” should public schools “not be closed as a public menace and a hazard to families and boys and girls who are in them?”

The sheriff, wearing a best suit, replies curtly.

“No, next question.”

School member Karitsa Jones is not annoyed at the specter of a free market in educational services. She says the magnitude of the shooter threat is not great. “I would hope we wouldn’t have to close down our system for a year or a half a year. I would hope that we could figure out *** how we can better secure our schools.”

Agreeing that the threat of a massacre is slight, school board member David Testerman is concerned that schools are coming to reflect the dull and bristly ways of the police state. “It’s a shame that we’ve reached this point in the United States of America. I can remember when schools were a fun, safe place to be. *** I think what we’ve got to do in this country is rediscover what America is really all about.”

Moment’s notice defenders, or more SROs?

The sheriff holds forth in a five-minute oration to the school board about the most immediate options — padding payroll with more deputies at $100,000 per year per officer vs. finding choice teachers to wear or keep 9mm’s on the job. Other solutions — building supermax-style schools (tough and flinty, like prisons) or adding Stalag 13-type security to existing schools — could take years.

The candidate for re-election will bring a “subject matter expert” here from Washington to discuss options, he says. The school board will be able to make an “informed decision” within two months about SROs or armed teachers. It would take an additional F$4 million a year to put an SRO in every school in a system with 43,000 students. That’s $25 per student. “That’s not a whole lot of money,” but it is recurring money.

“Do I think the SROs are an end in themselves? No. They are extremely expensive. When you’ve got a school of 1,400 students, and you have one SRO, what’s going on there? But I will say this.

“We do know where there is SROs, or anyone who is armed — with a good gun, as we like to say, to stop a bad gun — it significantly slows down whoever the perpetrator is. They’re going to have to refocus their attention on whoever is trying to stop them. They’re going to either exit the premises, they’re going to have to defend themselves, and in some cases they take themselves out.”

Somebody to fire back in 30 seconds

A shooter kills someone “every three seconds,“ Mr. Hammond says. “That’s a lot of people you can kill if you don’t have somebody firing back.”

“Guns are not the problem, folks,” he tells reporters. “The problem are people who will use any weapon, including guns, to kill other people.” Banning one type of firearm or another is not any solution, Mr. Hammond says, for which no one has constitutional authority.

Mr. Hammond is graphic in describing a public school massacre.

“This is a type of war. If we’re going to defend our children, no parent wants to know they are going to school to find their child dead from this. We’ve got to be serious about how we are going to stop these people until we figure out another way to do it.”

He will “not take off the table” having armed volunteer teachers who meet requirements for a reserve officers, 40 hours of training and a yearly refresher course. “That could be the first line of defense.”

Volunteers would be safety embodied

Mr. Hammond adds several proofs to his favor for the select armed citizen. It takes between 10 to 17 minutes before police arrive on the scene once a 911 call goes out, Mr. Hammond says.

So a decentralized proximate counterbalance to a shooter is essential. An armed teacher or SRO, on hearing gunshots and running toward them, could immediately unnerve the shooter with a “safe shot” to tell the killer he’s under attack, the sheriff says.

“That precious few seconds could save an awful lot of lives.”

“This country was founded on men and women who know how to shoot a weapon. *** So we’ve got to get away from this idea that if you take all the guns away we’re all going to be safe.” Guns are ubiquitous, and can be made at home.

“We’re talking about people who grew up hunting, were in the military, maybe police — they understand guns backwards and forwards. Those are the kind of people that would volunteer. Once they volunteer, they would be vetted, just like a police officer. Psychological would be done on them. They would have to go through the same I train a reserve officer.” It would be a “nightmare” to attempt to rely on volunteers.

“A teacher is there. A teacher already loves the kids. The teacher, like we saw in Florida, they put their life on the line, and lost their life, trying to protect kids. If one or two of those teachers had had a gun, you would have seen a different outcome in the number killed. I firmly believe that.”

Warning from former principal

Mr. Hammond’s defense of the armed citizen concept with its icy readiness frightens people such as race relations activist Franklin McCallie, who like others addressing the board denies that any individual teacher should be entrusted with a ready-to-go safety tools such as .38 or .380.

“I know that a multitude of guns would bring a multitude of dangerous accidents and misjudgments,” says Mr. McCallie, a longtime former teacher and school principal, “or the real possibility of theft of guns too easily accessed by someone who was not supposed to possess a gun at school.”

“On the other hand, I would welcome, as I eventually did welcome in St. Louis, a trained school resource officer. This police officer’s job was safety within the school, and he was focused 100 percent on that good.”

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