GAINESVILLE - A Gainesville City Schools proposal to allow school resource officers (SROs)to have access to rifles inside school buildings is nothing new. The plan first surfaced after the deadly school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut.
Gainesville Police did a safety assessment at every city school after the December shootings and one issue was glaring, according to authorities.
"The adversary has bigger, better weapons than what the average officer carries in their day-to-day operations and we saw a need to get that to the school resource officers because they're usually the first to be there," said Lt. Jay Parrish.
After that assessment, a draft of the proposal to allow in-school access to semi-automatic rifles went to three Gainesville City Schools - Gainesville High School, Gainesville Middle School and Woods Mill Academy - in April. The measure never came up for a vote before the Gainesville School Board because Gainesville High School's Governance Council had questions about how the plan would work.
But after a gunman managed to enter an elementary school in Dekalb County two weeks ago, School Board Member David Syfan asked that the proposal be placed back on the board agenda.
Now, the plan is to vote in October on funding the new weapons for the three SROs.
As Parrish pointed out at a news conference Wednesday, the officers have access to their rifles in their vehicles, but that's not practical if a gunman enters the school building.
"If we have an officer in the school and we have an intruder that needs to be addressed, we don't want that officer to leave the school because then he may not have access back in," said Parrish. "So if the officer is in there, he needs all the tools he can [get] to handle that situation."
Plus, said Parrish, a semi-automatic rifle allows the officer to more carefully pinpoint a target.
"The standard issue weapon that we carry is a Glock 22 -it's a 40-calibre handgun - it's small, it's compact and it's not effective at long ranges," said Parrish. "In some of these [school] hallways, we have 100-plus foot hallways - a handgun's just not effective in that area."
Total cost for the three Colt 6920 M4 Carbines and safes to hold the weapons while in the school buildings would be around $6,000, according to Parrish. The police department and the school system would share that expense.
And, the weapons would never stay on school grounds when the SRO is not present.
The school board is now waiting to hear from school governance councils before making a funding decision. Those councils will meet together September 30 with the Gainesville Police Department to get answers to their questions.