A test program that would give rural schools a strong defense against school shooters – much as assigned police officers provide in larger districts – is being implemented in North Dakota, where some schools are an hour’s drive or more from the nearest law enforcement officer.

Republican Gov. Doug Burgum in April signed a bill allowing schools to have an “armed first responder.”

In cooperation with local law enforcement and the state Department of Public Instruction, schools can assign a “qualified individual” in close proximity to carry “a concealed firearm on school property.”

The armed first responder could be just about anybody who is local, except for staff members with direct supervision of students.

The Bismarck Tribune noted the nearest law enforcement for the town of Edmore is about 40 miles away, in Devils Lake, a cause for concern for Supt. Frank Schill.

The rules for the local programs now are being developed by the state attorney general and the North Dakota office for Homeland Security.

State Supt. Kirsten Baesler expects a draft of the rules to be ready by June 13 for review by a team of school safety partners she assembled after the 2018 school shooting in Florida.

The new policy might not be ready by fall when schools reopen, but it is coming, she said.

“We want to make sure we do it well rather than do it quickly,” she explained.

The reason for the idea isn’t complicated. School shootings, and indeed mass shootings in all types of locations, are becoming more and more common.

Last week it was a municipal office in Virginia Beach and the week before it was a school in suburban Denver.

Those locations have police response time of only minutes or less. Or even an officer inside the school building at the time.

Small districts in North Dakota, sometimes with 50 students or so, cannot afford that protection, and so have developed the alternative – someone who is local, who can be trained, who can carry a concealed firearm and who can respond should emergencies arise.

ElRoy Burkle of the North Dakota Small Organized Schools said in the Tribune report that eight schools already have expressed an interest.

“It provides the local school districts with an option to consider and they make the call,” he said.

Many of the schools already do monthly active-shooter drills.

The bill originated with Rep. Pat Heinert, R-Bismarck, who previously served Burleigh County as sheriff.

“I think it’s going to serve a purpose and I think some communities are going to utilize it — that’s the most important part,” he said.

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