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Rural Oklahoma school posts warning of armed staff

The Okay, Okla., district put up signs on campus this week alerting visitors that school employees can be armed and 'may use whatever force is necessary to protect our students.' Do such policies promote a sense of security or unease?

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A rural school district in Oklahoma put up signs this week alerting visitors that some staff members have access to guns, in what it says is an effort aimed at deterring school violence.

Schools in Okay, Okla., about 48 miles southeast of Tulsa put up signs that read, “Please be aware that certain staff members at Okay Public Schools can be legally armed and may use whatever force is necessary to protect our students,” the Tulsa World reports.

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The signs follow up on a gun policy in the district’s schools – which serve 420 students – approved by the school board in August that says staff members may bring a gun to campus concealed on their person or kept in a locked box.

“Having a sign in your front yard saying ‘this is a gun-free zone’ just tells the idiots, “Come on in,” because we can’t defend ourselves,” Superintendent Charles McMahan told the World on Wednesday.

“[Okay’s] sign might be enough to send somebody down the road looking for some other soft target. If that’s what it does, it’s helping our school district out,” he added.

The superintendent says the requirements of Okay’s policy exceed those of the state, which require anyone who carries a handgun on school property to have a concealed-carry license and be certified by the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training, a statewide group.

Nationally the idea of guns in schools appears to divide Americans, as The Christian Science Monitor’s Molly Jackson reported in October.

Following the mass shooting at a school in Sandy Hook, Conn., in 2012, the National Rifle Association called for armed guards at all public schools, with NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre saying that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

A 2013 Huffington Post survey found that 38 percent favored letting teachers and school officials carry guns, while 40 percent opposed the idea. Another poll by the National Education Association found that just 22 percent agreed that teachers who received firearms training should be able to bring guns to school, with 68 percent opposed.

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In South Carolina, lawmakers filed two bills this winter that mandate gun safety courses and Second Amendment-relate curricula in state schools. One bill would establish a Second Amendment Awareness Day on Dec. 15, the anniversary of the Sandy Hook shootings, each year. The bill also includes a clause requiring new gun and Second Amendment-related curriculum to be either created or approved by the NRA.

In Okay, the superintendent said his administration was looking for a way to keep students safe and secure, noting that the Okay Police Department was disbanded in December 2014. While sheriff’s deputies in Wagoner County are available to respond to emergencies, Mr. McMahan told the Muskogee Phoenix that it is “seconds, not minutes that matter.”

There were 65 school shootings in 2015, some that led to injuries, some intentional and some unintentional, according to Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, a research arm of the gun violence prevention group backed by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Richard Antosh, an Okay student, told the Phoenix that he and several peers supported the policy, saying they trusted their teachers if a threat arose. Many of the students learned of the policy only after school officials erected the signs. But Richard told the Phoenix that he worried what would happen “if a kid tried to get the gun [from an employee] and hurt someone.”

Other Oklahoma districts told the paper that they relied on local police to maintain security at their schools.

“To make it short and sweet, we just don't think it's safe,” said Curtis Curry, the superintendent in Porum, Okla., which had a total population of 727 in 2010.

In Okay, McMahan, the superintendent, said one school employee is currently approved to carry a firearm. It’s the only school in the local Green County area with an armed-employee policy, he said.

“Our standards are higher,” McMahan told the Phoenix. “We really wanted people to know this is serious to us; we don't take this issue lightly.”