Shelby Co. Sheriff's program arms Sidney teachers; Local police chief "not a fan"

by Jim Irvine

The Sidney Daily News is reporting that Sidney police chief Will Balling is not a fan of Sidney school staff carrying firearms. There is obvious tension and the issue of guns in schools remains a polarizing topic. Misinformation continues to cloud the discussion.

From the article:

Balling said he is worried because there is a 70 percent chance that a teacher would miss their target if they were firing in an active shooter situation.

The chief said if one of his officers arrived on the scene and there was a teacher standing there with a gun, and they do not know it is a teacher, he feels they should "shoot the teacher." He would expect his officers to view the teacher as "a bad guy" in a situation of uncertainty.

"We can have up to 10 officers there in two minutes," Balling said, but he worries about "four or five others" walking around the school with guns. He said it's possible a teacher could also shoot an officer.

I had a hard time believing that anyone, let alone a police chief, feels like a law enforcement responder "should 'shoot the teacher.'" I contacted the Daily News to question the reporting. The paper said, "If he hadn't said it, we wouldn't have reported that he did. We even questioned him about it to make sure he meant it the way we heard it."

I then called Chief Balling to discuss the issue with him. He claims he was misquoted, that he said his officers "could shoot the teacher." Certainly that is a possibility. Or the police could shoot the killer and save the teacher. Or the teacher could shoot the killer and save the cop, or save the 20 kids before the cop shows up two minutes too late.

The tone of the story presents a confrontational situation between the Chief Balling and school Superintendent John Scheu. After talking with both men, the paper is accurate in this regard, though both men were very professional and non-controversial with me. There are obvious differences between Balling and Scheu. It does not matter the reason for their disagreement, airing differences regarding school safety in a public setting is not a good idea.

I talked to City Manager, Mark Cundiff about why there was even a discussion about school safety at the city council meetings. Cundiff said that department heads were making their presentations on the proposed 2014 budget. When he was done with his presentation, a council member asked Balling about discussions with superintendent and the schools regarding school policy on firearms. The chief responded that discussions were tense and the media took it from there.

Chief Balling told me he is not opposed to armed persons in schools, "but wants it done safely." He feels that Scheu and the BOE rushed to their decision without proper training or policy in place.

Certainly no one could disagree with wanting schools and persons carrying guns to be "safe." There will always be disagreements on how much, and what specific training is needed to make people "safe."

Scheu told me that before they adopted a policy to authorize persons to have guns available in schools, they took considerable time to study and consult with many experts, including Shelby County Sheriff John Lenhart and then-Sidney Police Chief Kevin Gessler. (Balling succeeded Gessler as chief in May of 2013.) Scheu has worked with the sheriff to have his school personnel trained in mindset, weapon retention, contact with law enforcement and medical care for the wounded. Two of the district's school resource officers (SRO) attended FASTER training paid for by Buckeye Firearms Foundation. They have policies in place which the board of education deemed appropriate. It is important to note that in Ohio the school board is granted broad powers and is the final authority on most issues, including firearms on school premises.

Buckeye Firearms Association has long advocated that law-abiding citizens with firearms are safe. Statistics indicate they are safe playing with their own kids, in shopping malls, movie theaters, grocery stores, at the park and many other places. Those same people do not suddenly become "unsafe" just because they walk into a school. Admittedly teachers responding to a classroom killer may face some unique challenges, but schools are doing a good job dealing with those.

At Sandy Hook, or any other mass killing, it does not take an expert marksman to stop the killer. It takes someone with the proper mindset and tools. Time is the key element. A person responding from inside the building will be quicker than waiting for outside help. The longer the killer is able to kill, the higher the body count will be.

Balling is quoted as saying "We can have up to 10 officers there in two minutes." But two minutes from when? It is estimated that it takes one to two minutes from the first shot before someone is able to dial 911. Then the caller must tell the dispatcher the problem and the dispatcher must contact the appropriate people to relay the information. That process generally takes another one to two minutes. This is when the "response time" starts. And it ends when officers are on scene, not when they have entered the building (which may be locked and barricaded as was done in Virginia Tech) and get through the maze of panicked people to find the killer and stop him.

Two minutes is an amazingly fast response time, but even so we are really talking about a minimum of four minutes from the initial killing to law enforcement intervention. Ron Borsch of S.E.A.L.E. in Bedford, Ohio coined the term "stopwatch of death" to explain how these events play out. In an average mass killing, approximately 5 people per minute are killed. Several more will be shot, with possible serious injuries. So on average, every 12 seconds delay results in an additional fatality.

All of a sudden our four minutes leaves us 20 dead and more injured. Sounds eerily similar Newtown, Connecticut. At Sandy Hook Elementary, the police response was impressive, but not fast enough to save the 26 people, including 20 innocent children brutally murdered waiting on that response. That was an average event with the killer snuffing out five lives per minutes. At Virginia Tech the rate was eight per minute, with many more seriously injured.

That is not to say that we will have a perfect ending with armed teachers and administrators. Almost certainly we will not. But on average we can expect two to three dead if the response comes from inside the building, and 12-15 dead if the response comes from outside. Which would you rather have in your child's school?

The experts agree that schools need real security to protect the children. That means someone with a gun. That may be a police officer, or better yet a SRO, but they are expensive. That may be a teacher or principal or maintenance person. It may be a retired person or a volunteer spouse recently home from Iraq or Afghanistan. The best is a multi-layered approach with ongoing training to include police and school personal training together.

Police are experts at many things, but they can't be everywhere all the time. School boards have the authority under Ohio law to implement safety procedures, including authoring persons to carry firearms. They have a duty to their parents and students to have a safety plan that is likely to work for all foreseeable emergencies and unfortunately active killer events are a real threat.

In the training I've been involved with, both teachers and law enforcement officers did a good job sorting out threats from non-threats, even under stressful and confusing situations. Neither group is perfect, and mistakes can happen, but I'd trust my kids to their skills any day. The actual damage caused by their mistakes pales in comparison to not having the means to immediately available stop a killer.

In spite of their differences, both Balling and Scheu indicated a desire for continued dialog going forward. We are happy to help them. I believe both men want safe schools and they can work through their differences for the betterment of their community. I know their schools are much safer today because of the policies adopted by their school board.

Schools across Ohio and across our nation have made the decision to authorize various individuals to carry firearms. Training and policy differ and they are being reviewed and improved as schools gain experience. The armed volunteers serve as a critical layer of protection for their kids just as pilots carrying guns protect airline passengers. There are no front page stories, but they are there every day doing their job quietly and professionally – ready to act if the need arises.

Jim Irvine is the Buckeye Firearms Foundation President, and recipient of the NRA-ILA's 2011 "Jay M. Littlefield Volunteer of the Year Award" and the CCRKBA's 2012 "Gun Rights Defender of the Year Award."

Note: Buckeye Firearms Foundation has invested well over $100,000 and hundreds of man hours this year working with school boards and personal to help them understand active killer events and how they can prepare, prevent, respond, and stop deadly force events safely and effectively in their schools. For more information on FASTER or school safety, see

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