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Fontana, Calif., schools get high-powered rifles

By Gillian Flaccus

Associated Press

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 03:48 a.m. HST, Jan 24, 2013


FONTANA, Calif. >> The high-powered semiautomatic rifles recently shipped to school police in this Southern California city look like they belong on a battlefield rather than in a high school, but officials here say the weapons could help stop a massacre like the one that claimed the lives of 26 students and educators in Connecticut just weeks ago.

Fontana Unified School District police purchased 14 of the Colt LE6940 rifles last fall, and they were delivered the first week of December — a week before the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Over the holiday break, the district's 14 school police officers received 40 hours of training on the rifles. Officers check them out for each shift from a fireproof safe in the police force's main office.

Fontana isn't the first district to try this. Other Southern California districts also have rifle programs — some that have been in operation for several years. Fontana school police Chief Billy Green said he used money from fingerprinting fees to purchase the guns for $14,000 after identifying a "critical vulnerability" in his force's ability to protect students. The officers, who already wear sidearms, wouldn't be able to stop a shooter like the one in Connecticut, he said Wednesday.

"They're not walking around telling kids, 'Hurry up and get to class' with a gun around their neck," the chief said. "Parents need to know that if there was a shooter on their child's campus that was equipped with body armor or a rifle, we would be limited in our ability to stop that threat to their children."

Some parents and students, however, reacted with alarm to the news that school resource officers were being issued the rifles during their shifts. The officers split their time between 44 schools in the district and keep the rifles in a safe at their assigned school or secured in their patrol car each day before checking the weapon back in to the school police headquarters each night.

"If the wrong person gets ahold of the gun, then we have another shooter going around with a gun. What happens then, if that situation occurs?" said James Henriquez, a 16-year-old sophomore who just enrolled at Fontana High School this week after moving from Texas.

Other students said they felt disillusioned that officials would spend money on semiautomatic rifles while the district eliminated its comprehensive guidance counseling program two years ago.

"They should get guns, but not as many and not spend so much money on them," said student Elizabeth Tovar. "They should use the money to get back our counselors because a lot of us really need them."

The district saved millions by restructuring guidance services, said Superintendent Cali Olsen-Binks.

"I understand that people are looking at the layoffs, but $14,000 and $7 million is a huge disparity," she said.

The 40,000-student district came up with the school rifle program after consulting with top school safety experts and looking at what other large districts had done, said Olsen-Binks.

Santa Ana Unified School District, in nearby Orange County, has had a rifle program for about two years that operates similarly to the one Fontana has started, said police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna.

The Los Angeles School Police Department also deploys rifles to its officers as needed, the department said in a statement. It would not say how many rifles district police have but said the weapons are kept in the department's armory and are handed out and returned daily.

The San Bernardino City Unified School District police force purchased four Bushmaster semiautomatic rifles last July, said Linda Bardere, a district spokeswoman.

Fontana is a city of about 200,000 people southeast of Los Angeles.

"I came from a teaching background, and it's appalling to think that we'd have to have security officers — let alone armed police officers — on our campuses. But the bottom line is ... everybody has anxiety over school safety right now," Olsen-Binks said. "Our police officers said they would take a bullet for these kids and because they are willing to put their lives on the line, they need to be equipped for all scenarios."

Only sergeants are authorized to check out the rifles from the police armory, where they are kept. All officers have been trained for years to use the rifles.

The Fontana rifle purchase did not require approval from the school board but member Leticia Garcia said she believes there should have been a public discussion before they were purchased.

"We're talking about a war-zone rifle, and so are we going to militarize our public schools?" Garcia asked. "We have to provide a safe haven for people to learn ... but this, to me, seems a little bit too much."

___

Associated Press writers Robert Jablon and Christina Hoag in Los Angeles contributed to this report.







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livinginhawaii wrote:
Good to see a school that will actually protect its keiki. Too bad that there are only two schools on Oahu that have trained armed guards.
on January 23,2013 | 05:56PM
joshislost wrote:
what schools are those? Wouldnt this provoke some stupid people? Some one will want to "him" to the test i guarantee it
on January 23,2013 | 08:03PM
control wrote:
gee, it sure didn't help columbine, Virginia Tech, or Fort Hood - all had one or more trained, armed professionals on site. By the time administrators figure out there's a problem and unlock the guns, load the guns, go to the incident, it's already too late. The slaughter has been done. So, tell me again how this fake sense of security protects people.
on January 24,2013 | 07:20AM
entrkn wrote:
sick
on January 23,2013 | 06:16PM
ya_think wrote:
One problem is that people are mis-informed about these rifles - "We're talking about a war-zone rifle" they are not a military rifle, if you strip the so called extras they are just an ordinary rifle. They would not be used by the military in combat.
on January 24,2013 | 12:06AM
tiwtsfm wrote:
Absolutely absurd. It is time that parents removed their children from these battle grounds. Get to the source of the problem which is the pervasive culture of violence in our country at this time. Remove all signs of violent behavior from our media - from the internet, TV, movies, video games etc. From birth our childre3n are exposed to this garbage. No wonder they think violence is the norm.
on January 24,2013 | 05:09AM
Publicbraddah wrote:
Bullets fired from high powered rifles tend to go thru intended victims at close range. Not a good idea with a school full of kids.
on January 24,2013 | 05:42AM
Venus1 wrote:
Stupid is as stupid thinks/does!
on January 24,2013 | 07:07AM
yhls wrote:
It's amazing how completely ignorant the media and most journalists are when reporting ANY story that involves firearms and their description. For the record -- AR-15s, such as the ones purchased by the school district in this article, and like the others that have recently been vilified by the media in school shootings -- are NOT considered to be high powered rifles by people who UNDERSTAND firearms. I won't get into the technical aspects of it. Suffice to say, the round the AR-15 shoots is very small compared to true high powered rifles used for hunting game.
on January 24,2013 | 07:08AM
control wrote:
who cares....bottom line - all guns are designed and built to kill. everything else is irrelevant.
on January 24,2013 | 07:22AM
yhls wrote:
But it helps to sell papers and drive traffic to your story if you lead with a headline that includes the phrase "high-powered rifles," which is exactly why these editors, most of whom know absolutely nothing about ANY kind of firearm, let alone military rifles, keep writing the same misleading headlines and stories.
on January 24,2013 | 07:11AM
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