The sheriff of a North Carolina mountain county said he will stock all public schools with AR-15 rifles this year so deputies have quick access to a more high-powered firearm in case of a mass shooter.
“Every day you turn on the TV and somebody’s been shot, somebody’s been stabbed, somebody’s been murdered, raped,” Madison County Sheriff Buddy Harwell said when he announced the initiative in a five-minute Facebook video in June.
“We live in Western North Carolina, a rural county, but we’ve got to be prepared even in our rural counties for the enemy when he tries to come in and destroy our children.”
Marshall, the county seat, is about 150 miles northwest of Charlotte.
The sheriff’s initiative gained national media attention on Friday after Asheville news outlets reported on the AR-15s, including that county school officials were ready to welcome the firearms.
School officials met as recently as July 26 with law enforcement officials about updated safety measures for the 2022-23 school year, schools Superintendent Will Hoffman told the Asheville Citizen-Times.
Firearms to be stored securely, sheriff says
On Facebook in June, Harwell said county commissioners “pledged to purchase strong, durable gun safes so these weapons can be secured in an undisclosed location at each school.”
County residents privately donated money for the rifles, optics and accessories, the sheriff said.
A UNC Chapel Hill education professor who has studied school safety and student well-being for decades questions the AR-15 initiative, Asheville station WLOS reported Friday.
“It’s called hardening of the schools,” professor Dorothy Espelage told the station. “What’s going to happen is we’re going to have accidents with these guns. Just the presence of an SRO increases violence in the schools.”
“Why is it that they have to have these AR-15s?” Espelage asked. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
‘Thugs’ on playground
On Facebook, Sheriff Harwell vowed “to exhaust every resource we’ve got to ensure that our kids are safe, that when they go to school they can learn … and they can go the playground and play, and not worry about some thug who’s going to come out onto the playground and open up on them with some type of AR-15, shotgun, pistol, whatever.”
A deputy armed only with a handgun “isn’t going to stop these animals,” the sheriff said on Facebook.
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