After the massacre at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, which took place nearly one year ago, lawmakers in some states took action, passing legislation that allows armed security personnel to protect campuses. Often, those who are watching over the students carry handguns. But one school took a different approach, bringing on two combat vets who will be carrying semiautomatic rifles.
By the end of February, two combat vets will be patrolling the grounds of Manatee School for the Arts in Palmetto, Florida. Each veteran, according to a report by the New York Times, will don body armor and carry a 9-millimeter Glock handgun as well as a semiautomatic rifle with a 17-inch barrel.
If a school shooter were to enter the property, “we’re not looking for a fair fight,” said school principal Bill Jones. “We’re looking at an overwhelming advantage.”
The school is also placing a guard shack at the entrance of the property and increasing the height of its perimeter fence by two feet.
Jones said combat veterans were hired because he was looking for guardian who wouldn’t hesitate if they needed to seek out and confront a gunman.
“I don’t want this to be the first time they’ve had someone shooting at them,” said Jones, adding, “most parents have been very accepting.”
After the shooting in Parkland, legislation was passed that requires Florida schools to have a minimum of one “safe-school officer” on campus. While the school safety officer may be an employee of a law enforcement agency, they can also be hired by the district or be an existing school employee, both of which must undergo required training to be able to work as a school guardian.
Manatee School for the Arts, a charter school with a student population of 2,100, was the only one in the Manatee County to hire guards who will carry rifles. Both of the veterans received training from the Manatee County Sheriff’s Department, ensuring they meet the state’s requirements for the positions.
“It’s just a much more effective weapon than the handgun is,” said Jones, discussing the choice to have the veterans carry rifles.
Michael Dorn, Safe Haven International’s executive director, noted that patrolling schools with long guns is “very unusual,” adding that he wasn’t aware of any other school in the country making that choice.
“It’s not something that we typically advise our clients to do for a variety of reasons,” said Dorn, citing issues like someone knocking out the officer and taking the rifle and that it is more challenging to subdue, restrain, and handcuff an attacker while also maintaining control of a long gun.
One of Manatee School for the Arts newest guardians has 15 years of infantry experience and has been patrolling the campus for several months. The second is also a combat veteran and is expected to begin as a guardian this month.