The Mount Airy City Schools Freedom School chose the topic of “protect children, not guns” as its focus for social action day.
Student Services Coordinator Jesse Hiatt said last year, the school chose getting people registered to vote.
Student questions Monday were directed towards a panel composed of Mount Airy Police Officer Ray Arnder, City Commissioner Jon Cawley, Assistant Superintendent Bryan Taylor and North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission Officer Chris Harris.
Hiatt opened the dialogue by explaining to students how the United States Constitution guarantees gun ownership and the constitution of the state of North Carolina says the state can regulate gun ownership of its citizens.
“If you don’t know how to use something correctly, you can really mess things up,” said Hiatt. “This is especially true with guns.”
Student Tiffany Eaton asked Arnder if police had weapons other than guns which weren’t lethal and could be used to stop crime. He responded by telling her police officers did have non-lethal weapons such as pepper spray and tasers which are routinely used.
Harris told students the best way to safely store weapons was in a locked gun safe where children cannot get to them. He explained ammunition needed to be locked away in a safe place as well and needed to be in a separate location. He said carelessness is the main factor in many accidents and a weapon’s muzzle must always be facing a safe direction. He told them to never handle a firearm without an adult present.
“My experience has been that guns should be respected and approached as a tool,” said Taylor. “One example of this is hunters getting food with their weapons. A lot of positive things can be done with guns, but they are a powerful tool which if used improperly can be dangerous. Our school system seeks to balance the right to bear arms against safety for students. You have to use guns the right way.”
Other discussions included what to do if a weapon was found on the playground. Arnder showed students examples of toy pistols and BB guns which looked realistic. He said it’s hard to tell what is real so children should never touch a gun found on the playground. He told them to leave it alone and tell their teachers, adults or anyone looking after them about the weapon.
When asked how could schools be kept safe from guns, Taylor explained how the shootings in Columbine changed how schools viewed safety. Arnder told them how guns are used or modified often determines if they are illegal or not.
“Our thinking before this was that schools were safe. This (Columbine) changed the way we looked and viewed schools,” said Taylor. “We and the officers work with our students starting when they are in kindergarten to educate that there is not a place for guns at school.”
He said another revisiting of protocols and issues occurred after the Newtown slayings. Taylor said state statutes for teachers require first and foremost a safe environment for students. Cawley talked briefly about how important safety is to businesses coming to Mount Airy. Cawley also serves on the city’s safety commission.
“Mount Airy has a perception of being a very friendly place and it is,” said Cawley. “Mount Airy also has some people who are dangerous. Millions of children were in school that day but just two people decided to load up and shoot people just because they could. It’s scary to think one person with nothing to lose can wreck it for everyone for a whole city.”
He told the students the night before Newtown’s shootings the decision had been made to add a student resource officer to Mount Airy Middle School.
“We try to put officers at all our schools,” added Cawley. “When people come to Mount Airy they know there are dangerous people everywhere. The prevailing attitude here is that we want it to be safe. None of you guys brought a gun today. If you did everyone would be in danger. That’s the crazy thing about evil.”
Reach David Broyles at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1952.