NewsDenver7 360 | In-Depth News, Opinion


In wake of STEM school shooting, debate reignites over guns in schools

Would armed deputies be a deterrent?
Posted at 10:27 PM, May 09, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-12 20:39:33-04

Editor's Note: Denver7 360 stories explore multiple sides of the topics that matter most to Coloradans, bringing in different perspectives so you can make up your own mind about the issues. To comment on this or other 360 stories, email us at See more 360 stories here.

DENVER -- Several high-ranking sources tell Denver7 the guard providing security at STEM School Highlands Ranch this week may have mistakenly fired at deputies. And, in all the confusion, a stray bullet may have hit a student.

Law enforcement is now checking into ballistic evidence from one of the injured students that doesn't match the rounds the two gunmen used.

The shooting and this new information is once again fueling the debate over guns in schools. Do they belong in schools at any level?

Differing viewpoints

"I just don't think adding more guns is a good idea," said one parent.

"If I have a teacher who is qualified, an ex-Marine or ex-law enforcement officer - why aren't they allowed to have a firearm to protect their students?" said former state representative Jim Kerr.

Kerr’s children attended Columbine High School. He was in office during the Deer Creek Middle School shooting and he says you can't legislate madness.

"How do you legislate somebody who's determined to destroy others?” Kerr said.

He’s a believer in arming deputies at every school and says we must find the resources to make it happen.

"I think it should be budgeted,” Kerr said. “And I think it should be a consideration. What's the most valuable thing we have? It's our children. Why aren't we protecting them to the best of our ability?"

If not armed deputies, what about private security guards or armed teachers?

President Trump has suggested regular training for armed teachers.

"I want certain highly adept people, people that understand weaponry, guns," Trump said.

But, that idea is met with much skepticism.

"What if - as a teacher - there's a student who overtakes you?" said teacher Amie Baca-Ohlert. She fears innocent children or teachers will get hurt.

"What if you misplace your gun or set it down,” Baca-Ohlert said. “There are people in their homes who have gun safeties and children find a way to get in and have access to those guns."

The shooters at STEM appear to have used guns stolen from home, smashing a gun cabinet to get them out, according to a high-ranking source at the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.

The shooters met their match in other heroic students willing to fight back, like Kendrick Castillo, who lost his life while tackling one of the gunmen. Other students were then able to subdue the shooter in that classroom.

MORE: How these hero students stopped the suspected Highlands Ranch school shooter

“Those young men were just incredibly courageous," Kerr said. “If you think back to what happened on Flight 93, it's time to fight back."

But no one wants that to be the new normal.

"There's not a person in this country that doesn't want this stuff to go away," said former Arapahoe County sheriff Dave Walcher. Walcher was the incident commander during Columbine.

Countries like New Zealand have acted swiftly. The island nation banned assault weapons after a shooting in March of this year, which is now law.

But in the United States and the Second Amendment, most acknowledge that is easier said than done.

"I can see both sides of it,” said one conflicted parent. “I wouldn't want to be forced to be armed as a teacher, but then you have your kids there."

Rep. Tom Sullivan, D-Centennial, lost his son in the Aurora Theater shooting and he believes gun control is the answer.

After this week's shooting, Sullivan offers a grim reality.

"Mom and dad - you need to begin to realize - it's going to happen," Sullivan said. “At your school, at your theater, at your church or synagogue - it's going to happen."

"The solution is - have people that are very well trained, armed and are willing to protect others," Kerr argued.

But the cost of armed deputies and metal detectors at every school have long been the hang-ups for school administrators.

"If I'm responsible for increasing achievement scores on tests, while I also have to talk about hiring SRO's to protect schools, there's competing interests there,” said a spokesman with Cherry Creek Schools. “They're both important, they're both critical, but there's only so much money we have to do that. And that's the biggest conversation we need to have."