By Steve Gunn

NEWTOWN, Conn. – Former U.S. Education Secretary Bill Bennett thinks American schools might be wise to train and arm certain employees, so they can react quickly in the event of an attack like the one that claimed the lives of 26 people Friday at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.

But a teachers union leader and a liberal U.S. senator would prefer leaving school staff and students at the mercy of killers, with no way to defend themselves.

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The senator said she will introduce legislation to ban the sale of assault weapons in the U.S. How such a law would keep the weapons out of the hands of criminals, we have no idea. Criminals tend to ignore laws. That’s why they’re criminals.

Bennett noted that the principal and a school psychologist at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary bravely lunged at the gunman after he entered the building Friday, but were tragically shot and killed while trying to protect students. Either may have been able to stop the man from hurting anyone if they had been armed with weapons and trained to use them properly.

“I’m not so sure –  and I’m sure I’ll get mail for this – I’m not so sure I wouldn’t want one person in a school armed, ready for this kind of thing,” Bennett, who served as education secretary under President Reagan, told the Huffington Post.

“It has to be someone who’s trained, responsible. But, my God, if you can prevent this kind of thing, I think you ought to.”

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, disagreed with Bennett.

“Schools ought to be safe sanctuaries,” Weingarten was quoted as saying. “We need to actually stop this routine view that just having more guns will actually make people safer. We are opposed to having someone who has access to guns.”

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U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California concurred with Weingarten.

“Is this the way we want America to go?” Feinstein said. “In other words, the rights of the few overcome the safety of the majority? I don’t think so.”

Feinstein added that she plans to introduce legislation that would “ban the sale, the transfer, the importation and the possession” of assault weapons. “The purpose of this bill is to get weapons of war off the streets,” she said.

Feinstein’s argument is ignorant and dangerous. It does nothing to address the problem of dangerous people who commit violent crimes and are routinely allowed back into society after a few years of vacation in prison.

And it does nothing to keep guns or other weapons out of the hands of criminals. Do we really expect criminals to respect a legal ban on assault weapons? There is a huge demand for such weapons, which would quickly breed a multi-million dollar black market. The only people who wouldn’t be able to get assault weapons would be law-abiding citizens.

For schools, it would be far better to have several staff members trained to use weapons that are safely stored out of the reach of students, or to require every school to hire at least one full-time armed security guard.

Ideally schools should be “safe sanctuaries,” as Weingarten said, but they’re not. That was demonstrated in the most horrific manner on Friday.

Until we start giving mandatory life sentences (or death sentences) to all criminals who use weapons while committing a crime, this problem will persist. Since that’s not likely to happen, we would be crazy to leave our schools and other public institutions unarmed and defenseless.