“Weapon-free School Zone” exists around DeWitt Public Schools

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by Laina Stebbins
Bath-DeWitt Connection Staff Reporter

DEWITT — At a time in American society when gun violence has become familiar news and mass shootings dominate the media circuit, many communities across the United States have changed their gun safety policies to better respond to a possible threat. In DeWitt, it’s mean no guns in schools.

The rate of homicide by gun violence in the U.S., compared to developmentally and socioeconomically similar countries. Measured by deaths per 100,000 people. Data from Global Burden of Disease Study

In the Administrative Guidelines for DeWitt Public Schools, it is stated that “The Board of Education prohibits professional staff members from possessing, storing, making, or using a weapon in any setting that is under the control and supervision of the District for the purpose of school activities approved and authorized by the District.”

Adopted by the Board in February, this policy provides just a few exceptions for this ban, including weapons under the control of law enforcement.

Bruce Ferguson, police chief for the City of DeWitt, sees a need for these gun-free zones. Even more so, Ferguson sees a need for preventative measures and education to stop violence before it starts.

“My philosophy is to be proactive, not reactive,” said Ferguson. “We educate our teachers and administrators to be cognizant of the fact that mentally ill folks…can end up at schools. So we ask if you know someone or if you see signs, let someone know. That’s our approach, to be as proactive as we can.”

But DeWitt parent Sharon Lake does not necessarily agree with the administration on this issue.

“It is unconstitutional that teachers can’t have guns,” said Lake, adding that she believes allowing teachers to carry a firearm “would make things safer.”

The administrative guidelines also establish a “Weapon-Free School Zone” extending “1,000 feet from the boundary of any school property.” This zone, however, does not apply for “persons who are properly licensed to carry a concealed weapon.”

The DeWitt Board of Education. Board members meet on the second Monday of each month at 7 p.m. (Photo: Laina Stebbins)

The DeWitt Public Schools Board of Education headquarters. Board members meet on the second Monday of each month at 7 p.m. (Photo: Laina Stebbins)

There are limits, however, to exactly who can concealed carry within the Weapon-Free School Zone and in what contexts. Additionally, the Board’s recently revised policy banning staff from possessing firearms has made it clear where the school district stands on weapons in a school setting.

According to Dr. Chris Melde, associate professor of Criminal Justice at Michigan State University, gun-free zones are complicated matters with little research to back up either position on them.

“Most places that are considered gun-free have limited control mechanisms,” said Melde. “And by that, I mean: how do you know if anybody has a gun or not? So, a university or campus can try to declare themselves a gun-free zone, but there are no ready-made procedures to make sure that it truly is gun-free.”

“If you have a good guy with a gun who’s well-trained and can recognize a dangerous situation, at least you have somebody there that can slow a mass shooter down,” said Melde. “Whether it works or not is not a question that science has been able to answer.”

dewitt jr high school 2

DeWitt Junior High School (Photo: Laina Stebbins)

If guns are veery allowed in DeWitt schools, Ferguson hopes training takes place to ensure standards.

“I hope if the school deems it necessary to arm a teacher or administrator or principal, that they get proper training and they set up guidelines,” said Ferguson.

“I don’t think there’s a right or a wrong answer here, I really don’t,” said Ferguson. “I think whatever decision you make, let’s all work together to make it work.”

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