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"If there had been even one armed guard in the school, he could have saved a lot of lives and perhaps ended the whole thing instantly."

-- NRA President Charlton Heston,
after the massacre at Columbine High School

There was an armed guard at Columbine, as Heston later learned, and to no avail. Now there will be armed guards in Lackawanna schools, as well. Maybe it will turn out to be a wise decision, but that's hard to know since there was no public discussion of this intensely public issue.

The School Board voted to require its guards to carry their weapons while on duty. The guards, who are off-duty police officers, wear civilian clothes and their guns will be concealed. The district normally stations three guards in the high school and one in Washington Elementary School.

The decision comes in the wake of a murder-suicide, in which a 16-year-old high school student was shot to death by a 21-year-old ex-boyfriend who then killed himself. The tragedy occurred in the girl's home, but Board President Kenneth Motyka said police have reason to believe the boyfriend was prepared to go to the school, if necessary.

Normal policy for Lackawanna police is for officers to carry their guns, even off duty. An exception was granted for those acting as school guards, but the board has now rescinded the exception.

School officials across the country have been walking a tight-rope since the shootings in Littleton, Colo., last year. Still, it is possible to overreact and it is important to ask whether posting armed guards is the most effective policy, especially in light of the Columbine experience. Lackawanna School Board member Diane Kozak, who voted against the requirement, said other alternatives should have been explored first, such as using metal detectors.What's more, that exploration should have been public. Students and parents have a right to know some facts here, including the relative risks and benefits of posting armed guards relative to other precautionary steps. This action has all the earmarks of a decision reached too hastily.

It's not too late for the district to take this issue up in public. Even if the board goes ahead with the policy, it should take the time to examine the alternatives as a way to assure itself and its residents that it has gone about the important business of protecting students in the wisest way possible.

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