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Armed with answers

Cloquet High School Resource Officer Erik Blessener stands watch in the Cloquet High School hallways last fall. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal

Editor note: This is the second story in a two-part series about gun violence. The first story was published March 15.

Cloquet High School student Jonathan Muhvich is optimistic about the new Florida bill. He joined Students Demand Action Minnesota to help bring positive changes and increase student safety in schools. He is an avid gun user and wants to keep his Second Amendment rights while balancing with the ban of assault-type guns.

"It's a good start," Muhvich said. However, he would like to see the AR-15 rifle banned. It has gained popularity with shooters in recent years who want to cause a lot of damage in a short amount of time.

Another discussion making the rounds lately is arming school teachers.

All principals and superintendents of Carlton County schools who answered the question for the Pine Journal are opposed the idea.

"I understand the reaction to want to arm teachers, as we want to protect our students and staff," Cloquet Superintendent Ken Scarbrough said. "I think our best response should continue to revise our safety procedures with the latest available professional advice, work through our plans with local law enforcement and emergency responders. We should rely on law enforcement officers, including our SRO (school resource officer), to be our armed defense. There are way too many issues to work out with arming school employees to go there now."

Carlton School Superintendent Gwen Carman said she doesn't support teachers carrying guns or having access to guns in schools "under any circumstances."

Washington Elementary music teacher Rachel (Holte) Christenson agreed.

"Personally, I do not believe it is a good idea to arm teachers," she said. "There are so many other ways to 'arm' schools; smaller class sizes, counseling services that meet the quantity of students in need, etc. We do not need to bring weapons into the schools. Isn't that the situation we are trying to avoid in the first place?"

The Pine Journal posted the question on its Facebook page. The post garnered about 4,000 views and 65 comments.

Teachers are only hired to teach, said many of the 25 people who said she are opposed to arming teachers.

There were 14 "yes" responses. Most said as long as teachers want to carry a gun and have experience using it, that is acceptable. A few respondents answered "yes," as long as the teachers have similar training as a police officer.

Other people responded with suggestions such as installing metal detectors and bulletproof classroom doors, and placing officers in schools.

To Cloquet High School Resource Officer Erik Blessener, the idea would be more like a nightmare in real-life scenario.

"In my opinion, it would be more confusing and could be more dangerous," Blessener said. He explained that plainclothes police officers are accidentally shot fairly often. Law enforcement would not be able to tell the difference between a teacher with a gun and a suspect.

"The new entrance makes the school a much safer campus," Blessener said. "There are over 50 cameras throughout the high school and middle school to help deter crime."

The security cameras have helped catch students fighting, thefts and break-ins.

"Our SRO has been a great addition to our school," Scarbrough said.

Local retired letter carrier Tom Beltt posted on Facebook that if arming teachers proves to be ineffective at stopping school shootings, "What's next?"

Joe Sandstrom posted: "if a teacher wants to carry a gun, they should be able to. This is a different world we live in now. It's definitely not the world I went to school in. I would trust the teacher with a gun in my child's class as long as they were trained and certified."

Several Facebook commenters said they would pull their children out of school if teachers were armed.

Kim Taylor offered several options, such as offering safety classes at a local college to train teachers how to take down a suspect, or have teachers wear a remote control around the neck during the school day to quickly lock classroom doors.

"Teachers have enough to worry about without making them the first line of security," Taylor said.

Several people advocated for better mental health care.

"Our teachers are under enough pressure and doing an amazing job," Jenna DeLacey said. "Do we have a gun problem in this country? Yes. Do we solve said problem by throwing more guns at the situation? No."




Possible gun law changes

There was yet another school shooting this week as heated conversations between lawmakers and students wanting tighter gun control continue. According to CNN, that makes 17 shootings this year alone, including the Maryland shooting this week. That averages 1.5 shootings a week that have happened on school grounds and at least one person was shot, not including the shooter. They include grades K through college level and gangs, fights and domestic violence in their data. They also include accidental discharge of a gun if other criteria in their list is met.

Florida lawmakers have made a few small changes since the Parkland School shooting. A new bill raised the minimum age for purchasing a gun from 18 to 21 years old. It also created a waiting period and banned the bump stock that causes guns to fire faster in a shorter amount of time.

Minnesota has not made any recent changes to gun control. Two proposed bills that would have placed restrictions on guns did not pass in February.

A Minnesota bill that will be finalized March 28 will include a clarification of a statute allowing off-duty officers to enter buildings where guns are banned with their weapon. According to the website, another change that was introduced, the "Defense of Dwelling and Person Act of 2017" which would "provide Minnesotans greater rights to use deadly force while defending themselves or their home." is not included in this bill