NC more prepared to respond to school shootings, but some lawmakers say arming staff best deterrent

Posted January 25, 2018 5:59 p.m. EST
Updated July 13, 2018 1:48 p.m. EDT

— Days after shootings rocked schools in Texas and Kentucky, North Carolina lawmakers got an update Thursday on this state's effort to head off and respond to shootings and other emergencies at schools.

"Too many times, we're seeing schools victimized," said Rep. John Faircloth, R-Guilford.

Lawmakers passed legislation five years ago, in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut that killed dozens of children and teachers, calling for creating anonymous tip lines for each school, requiring schools to develop more comprehensive emergency plans and hold annual safety exercises and providing local law enforcement with schematic drawings of and master keys to each school.

John Dorman, assistant director for risk management in the state Division of Emergency Management, and Ben Matthews, director of the Safe and Healthy Schools Support Division in the Department of Public Instruction, told members of a legislative oversight committee Thursday that most of those steps have been completed or are in process:

  • Elementary, middle and high school floorplans were added to a state database in 2014, and state officials are now working on adding plans for buildings on community college and university campuses to the system.
  • Schools conduct active-shooter drills at least once a year.
  • Software is being tested for panic buttons for teachers and school resource officers that would allow first responders to see where a potential threat is inside a school. Adding school security cameras to the system also will let authorities see what is going on inside the building.

An app called SPK UP NC, which allows middle and high school students to anonymously report possible threats, is being piloted in 50 schools, but Matthews wants to expand it statewide.

"We've already had some scenarios where we found out through some chatter, through the SPK UP app, that someone was planning to bring a gun to school," he said. "The local law enforcement followed up on that and found it to be a true scenario. So, we know for sure at least one shooting potential has been stopped."

Still, lawmakers said they worry about the minutes before first responders get to a school during a shooting.

"I'm not sure what can be done about those first few minutes," Dorman said, adding that the technology being deployed "allows them not to have to stop at the front door and figure out what to do."

Rep. Larry Pittman, R-Cabarrus, and others said more people in schools should be allowed to carry concealed weapons to stop a school shooting.

State law allows only law enforcement officers to carry guns inside schools. Concealed carry permit holders are required to lock their guns in their cars while on school property.

"At least the teachers, at least the professors, who are properly trained and permitted should be able to do that," Pittman said. "I love our police. They're great, they do a wonderful job, but they can't be everywhere at once. And the people have a right to defend themselves, and we should pursue this."

Sen. Ron Rabin, R-Harnett, cautioned his colleagues on the dangers of too many guns in schools.

"When you get into chaos, there's no way to figure out who's going to shoot at what, when, where, how and why," said Rabin, a combat veteran. "When you start snapping those rounds off with a handgun, that round can go anywhere."