In wake of Texas tragedy, Madison’s police chief challenges 2nd amendment, calls for more school security

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MADISON, Wis. — Some schools and parents in rural Dane County looked to law enforcement to increase security presence in the wake of the school shooting in Texas that killed 19 students and 2 adults.

“We understand that parents are extremely upset today, concerned, especially if you have children that are in the age range of the children that were targeted in Texas yesterday,” said Elise Schaffer, public information officer for the Dane County Sheriff’s Office. “We understand they’re shaken right now. So if we can provide that peace of mind and some extra eyes around the area to make people feel safer, we want to do that.”

In Madison, police chief Shon Barnes said there hadn’t been similar requests from the city’s schools, but said standard patrols in school areas had been told to stay more visible throughout the day.

Madison police chief on 2nd amendment

In a wide-ranging interview on Tuesday covering school security and the state of the country’s gun laws, Madison police chief Shon Barnes suggested that the 2nd amendment may no longer be appropriate for modern times.

“I understand it was legal, but is it right?” He said of the Texas shooter’s legal purchase of two guns prior to the shooting. “We have a lot of things that are legal, but is it the right thing to do? We have to rise above that. And sometimes it requires an evolution of our thinking. What was written in 1789 may not be appropriate for 2022 unless we’re okay with kids being killed.”

When asked if he was referencing the 2nd amendment, he responded, “Yes, I am.”

“I think we can protect the constitutional rights of citizens,” he added later in the interview. “Again, you have the right to freedom of speech, but you can’t yell fire in a crowded theater. You have the right to the second amendment, but we don’t expect you to come into a school and use an automatic weapon with unlimited capacity and kill people.”

Barnes suggested a federal commission with experts from both the gun control and gun rights sides of the debate, tasked with studying needed reforms that could draw bipartisan support.

“When will thoughts and prayers be not enough? When will my thoughts and prayers go out to–insert whatever–be so shocking to our conscious that we actually do something?” he asked. “I look on my twitter feed, I look on my Instagram feed, ‘My thoughts and prayers, my thoughts and prayers’. It’s like wash, rinse, and repeat. We have to move past that, we really do.”

Schools, shootings, and SROs in Wisconsin

There have been 25 shootings at schools in Wisconsin since 1970, according to the K-12 School Shooting Database maintained by the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security (CHDS).

Five of those shootings have occurred in 2022, the most for any year since the database started tracking. The incidents include things like accidental discharges or shots fired outside a school, such as the shooting outside a basketball game in Beloit in January that killed one, as well as another shooting at a game in Milwaukee in February that injured five.

Three of the shooting incidents in the 2021-2022 school year have been in the Milwaukee school district, which terminated its SRO contract in 2020 around the same time the Madison school district did as well following the murder of George Floyd.

Four of the shootings in Wisconsin since 1970 are classified by the database as active shootings, which include the 2016 prom shooting in Antigo that hurt two students and where a patrol officer already at the event shot the suspect. In 2010, a student held a classroom in Marinette hostage for hours before killing himself; a school resource officer had left the school after the incident had started before law enforcement were aware of the ongoing hostage situation.

In a 2006 incident, a custodian tried to wrestle a shooter to the ground before the student shot and killed a principal in Cazenovia. The fourth incident in 1998 didn’t injure any students and involved a student shooting through a front door; it’s unclear if resource officers were involved in 2006 and 1998 from news reports from the time.

In response to the presence of SROs at the shooting in Texas and others in Parkland and around the country, Barnes–who has long disagreed with MMSD during his tenure over their 2020 decision to remove SROs from schools–pushed back on the idea that they may not be effective in stopping a shooting.

“You can’t measure what doesn’t happen. When I was a SRO, I had a student who wrote a manifesto to come to school and shoot up the school,” he said. “In his manifesto, the first thing he was gonna do was to kill me. That’s what he wrote in his notebook. And I will tell you, it was not gonna go down that way. I took my job as a SRO very seriously.”

“Is a person more or less likely to run into a school if there is someone to stop them? I just reject the notion that SROs don’t prevent crimes because some crimes happen.”

Watch the full interview with Chief Barnes here:

Photojournalist Brian Mesmer contributed to this report.