A plan by Douglas County Schools to purchase ten rifles for its armed patrol division is prompting criticism by anti-gun violence group in Colorado. The $12,300 spent on guns and equipment came out of the school's security budget. The firearms are made by Bushmaster but district officials declined to comment on the specific model or magazine capacity.
"My first response was, 'this is madness,'” said Eileen McCarron of the organization Colorado Ceasefire. "It seems like an insane response," said McCarron, who has worked to strengthen gun laws. "I feel like the Douglas County response is just upping the ante -- more gun, more powerful guns."
Colorado Ceasefire is concerned students could get hurt because of concerns the rounds fired by the larger weapons could penetrate walls. The group is raising questions about everything from training of security officers, who are not police, to safe storage of the weapons.
"I think the response should be more on developing programs to identify students who are at-risk and providing them resources to work through their angers, and work through their frustrations,” she said. “This is not the America I know and love.”
"I can say from lessons learned and looking at all the situations that have happened across the country with shootings that having the correct tools, having the long rifles have helped out in situations," said Rich Payne, Director of Safety and Security for Douglas County Schools. He continued, "It's unfortunate but this is where we have come to."
All eight armed security officers have law enforcement experience and already carry handguns, according to the district. They will undergo 20 hours of training with the sheriff's department before the guns are deployed. The districts expects some of those guns will be handed out this month.
"We would only deploy them under the same policy that the sheriff's department currently would deploy them, if there was an incident within one of our schools," said Payne.
Denver7 learned that some school board members learned of the purchase on Facebook or by watching the news. One board member said the superintendent promised a summary and explanation as soon as possible.
Another board member, Wendy Vogel, said her calls to the school's communications division went unanswered Monday.
"We’ve got to keep our kids safe and we’ve got to keep our staff and community safe, but in my opinion that’s the role of law enforcement -- it’s not the role of a public school district," said Vogel.
Vogel said she wished the board had an opportunity to discuss the purchase because it could be seen as controversial.
School board president Meghann Silverthorn said she was aware of the decision. She said discussions about improving school security began last summer. She went on to explain the purchase did not go before the board because it was less than $75,000.
"If someone is coming at our kids with deadly force then it should be met with the same deadly force," said Silverthorn.
The district's head of security, Payne, spent 25 years in law enforcement and retired from the Colorado Springs Police Department. He said the decision to buy guns was based in part of the district's sheer size, totaling 900 square miles. It is comprised of 86 schools and 76,000 students.
"One of my officers on patrol may be the first officer at the school. I want to make sure... if he is the first officer there, that he is prepared and has all the right tools he needs to keep everyone safe and secure," Payne stated.
During the Monday afternoon news conference, Payne said he felt it was important for his officers to have the same tools and resources as other law enforcement officers.
"We currently train with the sheriff's department with our handguns. We have to qualify twice a year," Payne said. "We have to do eight hours of active gunman training a year," said Payne.
"This is another way for the Douglas County Sheriff's office and the Douglas County School district to keep the community safe," said Sgt. Lori Bronner, who oversees school resources officers and is a spokesperson with the Douglas County Sheriff's office.