My name is Don Plotnik. I am a retired Air Force Officer who, as a fighter pilot flew combat missions in two wars. My family and I have called Pickens home for 40 years, and during that time we have been deeply involved in Pickens County education. My wife retired after teaching at A.R. Lewis School; two daughters are graduates of Daniel High School and both are teachers, one was a librarian at Central Elementary; I was chair of the Daniel High School Improvement Council and was a longtime member of Blue and Gold Boosters, and I taught carpentry and cabinet making at Tri-County Tech for 15 years.
We were hurt by the child killing in Connecticut and concerned for Pickens County school children. I have studied editorials, letters and opinions of politicians and including statements by the National Rifle Association leaders and other pro-gun groups on managing high powereed weapons and school security. I have good knowledge of military style weapons.
My wife and I spent the weekend of January 26 and 27 driving to all 16 Pickens County Elementary Schools. Our purpose was to familiarize ourselves on the siting, architectural design, construction and vulnerability of each school. They are all different.
We were once again impressed by the beauty of the county and also felt that the school bus drivers who travel county winding, narrow roads in all kinds of weather and often in darkness are to be commended. They deliver precious cargo twice a day rain or shine.
We learned several important things. Each school has multiple doors and each classroom has at least one large window. One fairly new school has a window and an outside door on each of eight classrooms. Some schools have doors on all four sides of the building. One security guard could not possibly provide security for each door. One school had two stories. All of the schools had playgrounds/play areas adjacent to or very near the school building. One school’s playground was along a major U.S. Highway.
The school sites and locations were extremely varied from hilltops to large open fields to busy urban areas of houses, churches and stores. Several are in remote parts of the county; two have chain link fences surrounding the campus with gates locked during non-school hours and on weekends. Three of these schools were quite a distance from law enforcement. Many of the schools had wooded areas nearby, providing possible concealment for a gunman.
My background as a military plans officer helped me study and conclude certain pobabilities concerning enemy action (the enemy being a mass killer, as in Connecticut, Virginia Tech and Columbine). I don’t believe that a disturbed person bent on killing children would approach a locked door but would more likely fire from a standoff location with a semi-automatic rifle like the AR-15 Bushmaster with 30 to 100 round magazine and effective range of 547 yards (400-600meters). The killer might select the most vulnerable location and time of day: the children at play during outdoor recess or firing through windows of lunchroom or classrooms. I don’t believe that a single guard with short range firearm could prevent such an attack nor could a teacher or principal with a small concealed weapon stop such a killer. The guard at Columbine shot a weapon but missed the killer.
There is another area of vulnerability in time and location. A person armed with a semiautomatic weapon with multple round magazine (as an AR -15 with .223 bullets) could fire into a bus or busses loaded with children. The thin metal would offer little protection.
Conclusions: I do not believe teachers or school administrators should be armed. Most are not trained to shoot accurately and kill in cold blood. SLED Chief Mark Keel has said, “The responsibility of protecting the public schools, students and staff is that of Law Enforcement and not Educators.”
The siting of schools, their varied construction and surroundings, make them extremely vulnerable to a rifleman. No single guard could possibly protect the children from attack. It would be costly to pay for four or more guards for each of 1217 (660 elementary) schools in South Carolina. Using partially trained volunteers with guns would be asking for accidents or worse. Would a volunteer be authorized to shoot and kill a suspected gunman?
The solutions to the culture of guns and violence are many faceted. The School Board can enforce a No Guns On Campus policy as it does with smoking. If a security guard at each school becomes reality, the guards should be highly trained, paid uniformed officers. They should be equipped with bullet proof vests and semi-automatic weapons. Sheriff deputies would be the best source of guard personnel. The schools in northern (isolated) part of the county should be first to receive guards.
The long range solutions involve the political process at state and federal level. It is a requirement that government provide security for all citizens.School Board members are respected and their voices are heard. I would hope that the Board would promote the following as long term solutions.
1. Ban semi-automatic military style weapons, their manufacture and sale.
2. Ban clips or magazines for all firearms (except law enforcement) to 10 rounds.
3. Require background checks on all gun purchasers.
4. Ban armor piercing bullets (cop killers) and bullet proof vests, except for law enforcement.
5. Increase funding for mental health care and fund improved methods of identifying persons who may become dangerous; pass laws requiring treatment and/or commitment.
6. Initiate a buy back program for military style weapons (AR-15s, AK-47s and others) as has been done in some places.
7. Regulate gun shows.
8. Pass laws requiring sellers of ammunition to report large quantity ammo sales of “people killing weapons” (AR-15s and other semi-automatic weapons).
In summary, because the solutions to the gun safety/gun violence problem are difficult, doing nothing is not justifiable.