WASHINGTON -- Taft Union High School in Taft, Calif., normally has an armed guard on campus to help officials with problems that go "beyond the scope" of the administration.
But on Thursday morning, as a student showed up with a shotgun and fired two to four shots at a teacher and a classmate, the officer was nowhere to be found.
"He couldn't get there because he was snowed in," Sheriff Donny Youngblood of the Kern County Sheriff’s Department said in a press conference Thursday afternoon.
To what extent the officer's absence contributed to the situation at Taft Union will never be known. Law enforcement officials were grateful on Thursday that the impact of the shooting had been limited. The suspected shooter injured only two individuals: a teacher who received what Youngblood called a "pellet wound" to the head, which did not cause significant damage, and a 16-year-old student who was evacuated to a hospital, where he or she remained in critical but stable condition.
Had another teacher and a campus supervisor not talked the shooter down from firing more rounds, Youngblood stressed, the situation could have been far worse. Youngblood estimated that some 20 additional students were at risk. Police arrived at the scene a minute after the first calls came in at 9:00 a.m. PST., and the suspect was in custody by 9:20 a.m.
The shooting goes down as yet another chapter in a series of recent instances of gun violence. Coming at the start of what promises to be a contentious political debate around gun control legislation, it could potentially alter the course of that conversation.
That's because Taft Union High School had already adopted the type of preemptive security approach that the gun rights community has been advocating for. In a School Accountability Report Card for the 2011 to 2012 year, officials listed the following under the heading: School Safety.
"Two campus supervisors and a uniform deputy sheriff (the school resource officer) monitor the campus before, during and after school."
A separate document from the school notes that "two campus supervisors and a full-time sheriff’s deputy work with the assistant principal on matters of student welfare." The document also notes that the high school "contracts with the Kern County Sheriff’s Department to employ a full-time school resource officer to deal with truancies and disciplinary issues that are beyond the scope of our administration."
A separate law enforcement official, briefing reporters on Thursday afternoon, said he and his colleagues were grateful for the school's policy, regardless of the fact that the armed officer had been unable to make it to the school that crucial morning.
"Unfortunately they can't be every place at all times," the official said.
Others following the gun policy debate have been more critical of the idea of posting armed officials on the campus of every school, a proposal pushed by the National Rifle Association following the shooting deaths of 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Many observers questioned both the cost and the efficacy of the idea. An armed guard, after all, had been at Columbine High School the day of the shooting there. In addition, not all mass shootings take place at schools, raising the question of whether the country should have armed officials at every mall, movie theater and house of worship as well.
But the idea does poll well. And as Vice President Joe Biden puts together a list of recommendations with his gun policy task force, it's been suggested that he could throw the NRA a bone by proposing more money to place guards at schools.