South Carolina editorial roundup

February 28, 2018 - 3:02 pm

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:


Feb. 27

The Greenville News criticizes the proposition to arm teachers:

Kudos to South Carolina gubernatorial candidate Catherine Templeton for wanting to make schools safer. However, there's got to be a better way to keep students safe from a crazed gunman than allowing teachers to carry guns.

While in Greenville on Monday to officially kick off her campaign, the Charleston Republican was asked if she supports arming select teachers as one way to beef up school security. Templeton's leading Republican opponents, Gov. Henry McMaster and Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant, also support allowing teachers to carry guns.

School resource officers and others in law enforcement, along with teachers who are willing to be trained in firearms, would improve safety in schools, Templeton said. Installing metal detectors and bullet proof glass would enhance security as well, she noted.

School security, especially in light of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, is on the minds of many. President Donald Trump, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and others have also suggested that teachers should be allowed to carry guns.

The idea of arming teachers is not new. Teachers in some Texas schools already carry guns. Not every school in that state has marshals, and it's left up to each school district to decide on whether select teachers can carry guns. The school marshal program in Texas has strict guidelines and those who take part are required to sign up for an 80-hour training course, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. In the four years since Texas lawmakers enacted a school marshal program, no teacher has fired their weapon, the article said. Firearms must be stored in a locked container and can only be used in an active shooter situation.

Greenville middle and high schools already employ school resource officers, armed police officers who work daily in the schools and build a rapport with students. Some Anderson County schools have them as well.

There are many reasons why teachers — even those willing to do so — should not have the added responsibility of having a firearm in their classroom.

Educators should not have to worry about how they would response in a crisis; their chief responsibility should be educating students — a tall order given that some have classrooms filled to capacity. In an active shooter situation, could someone who isn't a police officer effectively fire a weapon and halt a shooter, particularly one with an automatic weapon? If the gun is required to be locked in a safe place, would they have time to access it?

And what if a student was able to get access to a gun that was supposed to be in possession of a teacher?

The cost and liability of such a proposal could make it too expensive for some school districts. Further, law enforcement officials responding to an active shooter situation may mistake a school marshal for the shooter.

One of the more disturbing revelations from the Parkland, Florida, school shooting is that several school resource officers assigned to the school on Feb. 14 did not engage with the assailant.

If trained officers are hesitant to do so, teachers may be also.

The National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) recommends that state and local funding be provided for every school to have a trained officer on campus. In the case of larger campuses, more than one officer should be employed.

The nonprofit group for SROs cites several reasons on its website for opposing the arming of teachers. Among them:

"Firearm skills degrade quickly, which is why most law enforcement agencies require their officers to practice on a shooting range frequently (as often as once per month), under simulated, high-stress conditions. Anyone without such frequent, ongoing practice will likely have difficulty using a firearm safely and effectively.

"In addition to maintaining marksmanship, ongoing firearms practice helps law enforcement officers overcome the physiological response to stress than can reduce the fine motor skills required to accurately fire a weapon.

"Anyone who possesses a firearm on campus must be able to keep it both ready for use and absolutely secure. Law enforcement officers receive training that enables them to overcome attempts to access their weapons.

"Discharging a firearm in a crowded school is an extremely risky action, with consequences that can include the wounding and/or death of innocent victims. Law enforcement officers receive training and practice in evaluating quickly the risks of firing. They hold their fire when the risks to others are too high."

The sad fact is there is no way to make schools completely safe. Hiring more mental health professionals, creating a climate where students and parents feel comfortable reporting suspicious behaving, restricting school building access and trained police officers won't deter a person intent on firing a gun inside a school.

But that shouldn't stop everyone in the community, from politicians to parents to students from trying. More communitywide discussions like those which have sprung from the Parkland shooting, may illicit some useful ideas.

Let's keep talking. It will likely take a combination of security measures to make our schools safer. Teachers should be focused on education — that is more than enough to keep them busy.



Feb. 24

The Post and Courier of Charleston advocates more limits on drones:

A helicopter pilot who reportedly took evasive action to avoid a drone clipped a tree with the helicopter's tail and crash-landed, with no injuries, on Daniel Island Feb. 14. It may have been the first instance in which a drone has effectively brought down an aircraft, but it won't be the last.

The accident came as no surprise to aviation interests, which have been warning about the likelihood of collisions.

Just a day before the accident, the trade group Airlines for America, the Air Line Pilots Association International and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association collectively called on Congress to undo legislation that limits the Federal Aviation Administration's regulation of drones operated by hobbyists and recreational users.

"We strongly urge you to remove legislative restrictions that have been placed on the FAA that limit its safety oversight of UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems). The likelihood that a drone will collide with an airline aircraft is increasing."

Indeed, drones pose a potentially deadly hazard. And with their increasing popularity, a more serious accident is bound to happen. A nearly 3-pound metal-and-plastic whirlybird like the one believed involved in the accident on Daniel Island could endanger an airliner if sucked into a jet engine.

Though the crash landing on Daniel Island may have been the first of its kind, drones and other aircraft have collided before. On Feb. 9, a helicopter pilot over the Hawaiian island of Kauai reported colliding with a drone, but the chopper sustained no significant damage and landed safely. In September in New York City, a helicopter and a drone collided near Staten Island, though the helicopter landed safely. And in 2015 in Los Angeles, the windshield of a helicopter like the one involved in the crash landing on Daniel Island was shattered by what was believed to be a drone.

Drone operators, who have to be at least 13, are required to register with the FAA and follow a set of rules that include keeping drones within sight, flying at heights less than 400 feet, avoiding manned aircraft and staying out of restricted airspaces around airports, military bases and other sensitive areas. Some municipalities such as Mount Pleasant have banned drones from city parks.

But apparently there's nothing on the books to diminish the chance of the kind of low-altitude encounter reported on Daniel Island, which occurred over an unfinished subdivision. So far, the drone operator has not been identified.

Commercial aviation groups are understandably worried about the proliferation of recreational drones, and Congress should give the FAA the oversight authority it needs to rein in amateur operators before more accidents occur.



Feb. 26

The Times and Democrat of Orangeburg on the seriousness of threatening schools:

Once upon a time the issue seemed to be convincing students that phoning in bomb threats to schools was no joke.

Then came 9-11 and terrorism - and an epidemic of very real attacks on schools. The law got tougher on offenders.

Two teenagers in Orangeburg County found out what a price there is to pay. In 1999, both received jail terms of one to six years for making bomb threats to two local schools. Cases of threats to schools elsewhere in the region resulted in arrests.

State law strengthened in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks calls for up to 10 years in prison for a bomb threat. Making a threat is a felony and constitutes threatening to kill, injure or intimidate individuals or damage and destroy property by means of an explosive or incendiary device.

But what of today's menace and threats made over social media to attack schools with guns in the fashion of the recent Florida shooter?

In court on Thursday, Orangeburg County Sheriff Leroy Ravenell called the case against a 23-year-old man accused of posting social media threats to open fire at Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School very serious. He asked that the man be held without bond.

"This is a serious act to be involved with and especially at a time such as this when the nation seeks answers. We have our answer to this individual. He'll face a judge and the utmost justice," the sheriff said.

But just how much "justice" awaits the man should he be found guilty is debatable.

Orangeburg County Magistrate Derrick Dash said he is "deeply disturbed" by the incident. "If it were in my power to do something different, I would."

He set bond and the case will proceed - in magistrate's court because the charges of disturbing schools and unlawful communication are misdemeanors.

"I think he is a danger to the community," Ravenell said. "This is a very serious time after the incident in Florida."

And that is why some lawmakers in Columbia don't see the charges and potential punishment fitting the crime.

They want to strengthen laws against threatening schools. And though consideration of such could be called reactionary, the issue is due serious examination.

A Senate panel on Thursday approved a law that would make it a crime to threaten to cause damage, injury or death with a "dangerous weapon or instrument" at a school.

But the proposal continues to make a threat or a threat that results in property damage misdemeanors. Only when the threat results in injury or death would the case become a felony. The misdemeanors would carry fines and up to two and three years in jail, respectively. The felony conviction could mean up to five years in jail.

The debate may now focus on whether the proposed punishment is sufficient for the crime, but there should be no disagreement on the need to clarify and strengthen the law to make threatening schools a specific offense.

At present, a person convicted of unlawful communication faces a maximum of 30 days in jail. Disrupting schools has a maximum penalty of 90 days.

While the extent of punishment can and should vary based on circumstances of a case, the two charges resulting from a threat such as the one at O-W do not sufficiently address the severity of the offense of threatening schools.


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