Remote Idaho school buys guns to enhance safety

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A small Idaho school district far removed from any sort of law enforcement has purchased firearms and trained a handful of staff to use them should a school shooting happen.

It takes police at least 45 minutes to reach the Garden Valley School District, which is made up of less than 300 students all taught under the same building. Limited funds have prevented the school from hiring police officers to patrol the building during school hours.

As a result, the school board approved this month purchasing guns to remain locked inside the school and trained six employees to use the weapons in case of an emergency.

"I hope we never have to use them," said Alan Ward, a school board member who has been discussing this option with the school for two years. "But in the event something did happen, we wanted to be prepared."

Garden Valley’s actions are just one of many solutions schools have used across the nation. Some schools have installed metal detectors, others have expanded school resource officers to secure not only high schools but also middle and elementary schools.

Bringing guns into a school in Idaho as a safety measure is widely more accepted than other parts of the nation.

In 2013, an eastern Idaho school district approved installing gun safes in its high schools and middle schools in order for school resource officers to have easy access to rifles if needed -- the same year the Idaho School Board Association rejected a plan to set up gun training for education staff and teachers.

In 2014, state lawmakers approved allowing guns on college campuses.

The Idaho Department of Education says school districts statewide reported less than 10 weapon-related incidents over the last two years. That includes reports about guns, knives and explosives to schools.

Most of the information regarding how many of each incident was reported, where each one occurred and when they happened has been redacted because of state policy where if less than 10 of a specific incident is reported, the information is redacted.

Finding information about Garden Valley's weapons decision is also limited. The school board declined to release how many firearms were purchased, what type and where they would be stored.

Ward said the school isn't releasing that information to protect safety procedures. He estimated the school has spent roughly $3,500 to purchase ammunition and train six school employees to handle the weapons while the rest of the arsenal was donated by the community.

Even with training, it's no guarantee teachers and staff will prevent fatalities in a high-stakes situation, said Allison Anderman, a staff attorney with Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a nonprofit opposed to arming teachers.

She added that housing guns in schools could create a chilling effect for students who may be less inclined to speak out knowing that the teacher could be armed.

"Just having people armed doesn't make a school safer," Anderman said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report