California school district arms officers with semiautomatic rifles

Posted Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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

Fontana Unified School District police bought 14 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.

Fontana isn't the first district to try this.

Other Southern California districts also have rifle programs -- some in operation for several years.

Fontana school Police Chief Billy Green said he used money from fingerprinting fees to buy the guns for $14,000 after identifying a "critical vulnerability" in his force's ability to protect students. The officers 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 officers were being issued the rifles during their shifts.

"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 feel disillusioned that officials would spend money on semiautomatic rifles while the district eliminated its comprehensive guidance-counseling program two years ago.

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