UNION COUNTY — Sheriff David Taylor said he does not want to see a “prison-like environment” develop at the county’s schools due to the presence of armed guards and/or teachers with guns but he would like to see School Resource Officers in every Union County school.
The massacre at Sandy Hook in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 12, 2012, has reignited the debate over gun control and a concurrent debate over how to secure America’s schools against such atrocities in the future. The steps proposed in the weeks since have ranged from bans on assault rifles, semi-automatic weapons and large ammunition clips to putting armed guards in every school and/or allowing teachers and principals to carry guns on campus.
“I guess the most calls I’ve gotten is from people asking ‘Will you put School Resource Officers in all the schools in Union County?’” Taylor said in a recent interview. “What the general public doesn’t understand is somebody has got to pay for that and that’s the taxpayer. We don’t have the personnel or the funding to make that happen.
“The question has come up about armed guards at school buildings,” he said. “I am in favor of School Resource Officers in schools but just to have an armed guard at every school gives it a prison-like environment. A perfect example of this is my grandson is in kindergarten and I don’t want to see my grandson who has been watching ‘Thomas the Train’ on TV go to school and the first thing he sees are a bunch of teachers with guns on their hips or armed guards at the door.”
While he favors having a School Resource Officer (SRO) in each school, Taylor said the officer’s presence does not mean someone won’t try to follow in Adam Lanza’s footsteps. It could, however, make them realize they will face armed resistance if they make the attempt, resistance that Taylor said could possibly reduce the number of lives lost.
“If an individual goes to a school to try and carry out this event and he sees a marked patrol unit in the parking lot it may not prevent him from carrying out this event but it will let him know he’ll face resistance,” Taylor said. “An SRO may not have been able to stop the shootings in Connecticut but he might have stopped the massive loss of life in such an event.”
Taylor pointed out that the reaction in Washington, D.C., in the immediate aftermath of the massacre were calls for more gun control legislation.
“In his speech the day this happened, President Obama made it clear that he’d make gun control the central issue,” Taylor said. “He said we’re going to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this.”
Taylor said Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Joe Lieberman called for an immediate ban on assault weapons. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Taylor said the National Rifle Association (NRA) called for funding for armed guards in every school.
Taylor said he does not favor gun control.
“You can put a ban on semi-automatic weapons or a ban on assault rifles or a ban on large ammunition clips, but it is not going to prevent these type of tragedies. It won’t because guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” he said. “I am a gun advocate and law-abiding citizens will become sitting ducks if you ban guns. The bad guys are going to have guns anyway.”
Taylor said he does not believe persons outside the military and law enforcement should have access to assault rifles. “I agree that assault rifles need to be controlled,” Taylor said. “Nobody needs an assault rifle to hunt deer.”
Another item Taylor said should be exclusively for use by the military and law enforcement is body armor. “Nobody else should have access to it,” he said.
As for the ban on large, military-style ammunition clips, Taylor said it is not the amount of ammunition in a clip that determines whether an attacker is able to inflict large numbers of casualties.
“If an individual is proficient with a weapon it doesn’t matter the size of the clip,” Taylor said. “Someone who is proficient with a weapon can quickly remove the clip and put in a new one and continuing firing. So banning large clips is not going to solve this problem.”
Taylor said the desire to find a quick solution to the problem is understandable but does not address the problem.
“There’s been so much talk about this tragedy,” Taylor said. “This is not just about a massacre, this goes much deeper than that. We want to see who we can blame for an event that happened such as this. We say their deaths could have been prevented ‘if only’ and ‘if only’ is the two cruelest words in the English language.”
Taylor said that all the proposed solutions are not going to prevent individuals like Adam Lanza from committing atrocities because they don’t deal with the issues of mental illness, the failure of society to provide the mentally ill with the institutionalization and treatment they need, and the social pathologies which are helping to nurture the violent tendencies of some mentally ill individuals.
“It’s a combination of family life and a reckless disregard for human life brought about by violent video games, violent rap music, and violent movies,” Taylor said. “You’ve got someone suffering from mental illness sitting in front of a TV all day shooting and killing people. They’re getting practice for carrying it out for real.”
Taylor said the problem of the mentally ill is one that his office sees every day.
“From Jan. 1, 2012, to Dec. 31, 2012, my office transported 101 mental patients to institutions,” Taylor said. “That’s an enormous number and how many more have been turned loose onto the streets because of a lack of hospital space for people who need to be institutionalized, not walking the streets of Union County.”
Taylor pointed out that many mental illnesses can be treated and controlled with medication, but only if those who need the medication take it. Taylor added that if a mentally ill person won’t take medication that will enable them to function in society they are not going to truthfully answer questions about mental illness on a form when purchasing a gun.
While there is no one answer to the problem of gun violence in America, Taylor said the people of Union County can help by coming to grips with the world they live in and the reality that atrocities like what took place in Newtown are a possibility.
“Our community has this false sense of security that nothing like this could happen in our county,” Taylor said. “It you look at the population of Newtown, it is 28,000 residents. Before December there was only one homicide in the town in the last 10 years.
“Its demographics were similar to Union County and so I don’t think we can let down our guard by assuming nothing like this can happen here,” he said. “I think we are at the point in our society where we have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”
Editor Charles Warner can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 14, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.