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Guns in schools: Superintendent says armed employees would offer best protection

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We recently wrote about a legislative push in Colorado to allow permitted employees to carry guns in schools -- one of a handful of gun-related bills already making headlines at the start of the new session. We've since heard from Jeff Bollinger, a school superintendent in Sheridan Lake, who supports the idea. Why? If a shooter broke in, he says his only defense would be to hide students and hope they aren't found.

"I feel responsible for the lives of my staff and students," says Bollinger, superintendent of Plainview School in Sheridan Lake, in eastern Colorado about fifty miles north of Lamar. "But really, the only protection I can offer them now is a good hiding place."

The bill, introduced on day one, is sponsored by Representative Lori Saine in the House and senators Scott Renfroe and Ted Harvey -- all Republicans.

If passed, the bill would give school boards across the state the authority to allow permitted employees to bring concealed handguns onto school property. Currently, schools in Colorado are considered gun-free zones -- but this proposal would allow districts to change their policy if they wanted. (No district would be forced to allow guns and could maintain their schools as gun-free zones if they preferred).

The push for enhanced safety precautions in schools comes the month after a gunman in Newtown, Connecticut shot his way into an elementary school and ultimately killed twenty students and six adults. The terrible massacre sparked a renewed discussion in Colorado about gun control -- a topic widely debated in the aftermath of the Aurora theater shooting.

While some Democratic lawmakers in Colorado are pushing initiatives that would restrict access to guns and provide a more thorough background-check system, the Republican legislators, echoing recent controversial comments from the National Rifle Association, see more guns in schools as part of the solution.

But even as the bill sparks controversy, it's supported by Bollinger, who talked to Representative Saine about the importance of letting employees who are trained and licensed carry guns on school grounds.

Continue for the rest of our interview with Jeff Bollinger. "We are a very rural district," says Bollinger. "We are thirty minutes away from law enforcement.... I feel powerless."

His district has a total of around eighty students, pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade.

Protecting the property is very personal for him, since his wife is a librarian and his eight children attend the school, where he has bee a superintendent for three years.

"The bad guys prey on the vulnerable, and there's nothing more vulnerable than children at a school without protection," he says. "So we are a target."

Bollinger doesn't currently have a permit to carry, but he would take the necessary steps and purchase a gun if he were given the opportunity to bring one to his school.

"The problem has been...I'm forbidden by law to carry a weapon," he notes. "If that were to be accessible, I would pursue [a permit]."

Before he could do so, the school board in his area would have to vote in favor of allowing concealed handguns, and he says he doesn't know yet if it would do so. If he had the opportunity through a new law, though, he says he would strongly urge a yes vote.

Bollinger says he's been generally disappointed by the political reactions he has heard in the wake of the Connecticut tragedy.

"Nationally, it seems like the answer is to restrict guns and restrict gun ownership," he says. "But that restricts your ability to protect yourself.... The conversation revolves around guns...[but] it should revolve around, 'How do we protect our children?'"

He adds, "I think the conversation needs to be on crime control.... They're trying to address the access to the weapons...but we fail to look at the criminals."

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Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.

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