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Highland Park Lawyer Crusades for Armed Guards in Schools

Since the Sandy Hook massacre, Robert Bernat has made his case for armed guards in every Highland Park school to the City Council, both school boards and the police. And that's just the beginning.

Robert Bernat has been to a lot of meetings since January, and he has no plans to slow down soon.

The Highland Park resident, attorney and doctor has made presentations to the city council, the district 112 and 113 boards and the chief of police.

If this sounds like a lot of legwork, it's because Bernat's battle is an uphill one: he wants an armed guard in every school.

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"I'm going to try to push the national dialogue," he said. "I have to sleep at night knowing that I did everything I could."

Though his goal is to put armed guards in every school nationwide, he hopes to start with Highland Park. He's asking the local school boards to set up committees to brainstorm ways to improve school safety, and he feels fairly certain that the discussion will lead them to the same conclusion he's drawn.

"I don't want to tell school districts what they need to do," Bernat said. "I'm hoping that, over time, people can see the inherent logic in this."

For Bernat, that logic boils down to another uphill battle, one he thinks is impossible: stopping these shootings from taking place altogether. 

'It's going to happen again.'

On the night , Bernat couldn't sleep. He and his wife sat in bed and cried over the news. Later that night, Bernat wrote his argument in favor of armed guards in schools, which was eventually printed in The Wall Street Journal.

"I felt I needed to do something," said Bernat, who begins the editorial stating that he is not an NRA member.

Bernat's argument is that, no matter what laws are passed to make guns more difficult to come by, it is impossible to prevent school shootings. There are too many guns floating around a country that has not done enough to support people grappling with serious mental problems, he says. Even if restrictions are placed on certain kinds of guns, Bernat argues, others that remain legal can still wreck havoc.

"Nobody's talking about banning handguns or shotguns," Bernat said. "Whatever comes out of Washington is not going to prevent another Sandy Hook from happening again."

During Sandy Hook, all the shooting that killed 26 people took place in 10 minutes, according to The Hartford Courant. Bernat believes that the speed with which these tragedies unfold is what makes an armed guard necessary is in each of district 112's dozen buildings.

"You can't rely on first responders," Bernat said. "Many times they arrive after the fact."

The only hope these potential victims have against another Sandy Hook, Bernat says, is to place someone in the school with a gun who can take the shooter out as soon as that person opens fire.

"It's the right thing to do," Bernat said.

Not many people who have heard his presentation seem to agree.

Can more guns prevent gun violence?

District 112 School Board President Bruce Hyman says the district has no plans to place an armed guard in its schools.

"It just opens up a Pandora's box," Hyman said.

The district, he said, frequently works with the city's police and fire departments to improve safety. Developments in the past few years include video cameras set up around each building, security badges and an agreement giving open access to both the police and fire departments.

"If you wanted to create the ultimate safe school… you would have to build walls around the playgrounds," Hyman said. "You'd have to create a prison, and nobody wants that."

City Councilman Paul Frank, who recently put a resolution to the city council urging state legislators to ban assault weapons, said that increasing the guns in our city is "contrary to our way of life."

"You can't have armed police at every street corner, you can't have armed police on every public place," he said.

City Councilman Tony Blumberg echoed Frank's sentiment.

"The idea that more guns can prevent gun violence has never been true," he said. "This is not the Wild West."

Blumberg also disagreed with Bernat's claim that an armed guard could make more of a difference than nearby police.

"The problem that everyone seems to miss with guns is that the damage they do is instantaneous and an armed guard will not prevent that," Blumberg said. "If someone is determined to get into a school with a weapon, having an armed guard there will do no good."

There is, however, one place Bernat does not need to focus his energies: Highland Park High School.

Police at District 113 schools

HPHS has had a police officer assigned to it since 2000, and District 113 recently announced another officer would soon be stationed at Deerfield High School as well.

"This isn't a knee jerk reaction to what happened," District 113 board member Bonnie Shlensky said. "We've always put security and safety in the forefront."

These officers are not there to stop school shootings so much as they are there to be a resource to students, according to Highland Park Deputy Police Chief George Pfutzenreuter. Their first priority is to spot problems before they escalate.

"They're in charge of investigating crimes that occur on school grounds," he said. "They report for duty here in the morning but they spend their whole day at the school."

Pulling all the stops

Although Bernat's idea has not got as much traction in District 112 as he might like, he doesn't seem discouraged.

"It is absolutely irrefutable logic that people have to sit down and think about this," Bernat said. "Don't let the decision be made by inaction."

Bernat says he has been meeting with politicians in Springfield and with people who "are quite connected" that will help him press forward with his cause. He is heading to Washington, D.C. on Wednesday for more meetings to keep pushing for armed guards in schools.

"I have pulled out all the stops," he said. "It just simply makes sense."

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William d Brown February 26, 2013 at 02:34 PM
Soccoro Don't you live in Columbia S.America?
John Bently February 26, 2013 at 02:42 PM
I'm a proud member of the NRA, and I approve of Mr. Bernat's ideas. However, we also need more emphasis on the mental health problems. Lastly, security should be "beefed up" to prevent unauthorized persons from entering the schools. There is no way that all of the available guns in the area are going to be confiscated, if that is tried, only the criminals will have firearms.
Amy Lohmolder February 26, 2013 at 03:15 PM
I am wondering how this would affect children. I don't think it is healthy for my child to be exposed (more than he already is) to this idea that danger lurks at every corner and nobody is really safe or to be trusted. Bad things do happen but not as often as the pervasive fear and knee jerk reactions that color the lives -- that poison the lives --of many millions of children every single day. This is a greater danger.
William d Brown February 26, 2013 at 03:29 PM
wouldn't it be a good idea to have sensible gun laws instead of our country be intimidated by gun addicts and domestic terrorists
Jack Straw February 26, 2013 at 03:58 PM
I would strongly disagree with armed security in schools. While I understand the sentiment for protection this would only present more problems than it would solve. I feel trap double doors and better monitoring by officials would go further. Remember school shooting in reality are very rare; the media would have you believe they are a daily thing. Since Laure Dann almost ever shooter was taking some form of psychotropic medication, so isn’t it smarter to focus the problem.
Bob Levi February 26, 2013 at 04:09 PM
Have you ever noticed the "rent-a-cops" at the malls? Would these folks form the core of the "trained" guards in school? I don't have any statistics, but how many people and kids are killed by cars? Does that me we should ban cars? The world has changed dramatically since I was a youndster some 65-70 years ago. We had crimes then and will continue to have a criminal element. When Lizzie Borden took and axe and gave her father forty whacks over 100 years ago,, did anyone suggest banning hatchets?
Benny G. February 26, 2013 at 04:17 PM
Great idea. First guy dead would be the armed guard. That would give everyone a little longer to hide. This is all politics meaning nothing will ever get done if anything can get done and it will continue to happen. All the solutions offered here are pollyanic drivel.
Bob Levi February 26, 2013 at 04:22 PM
Benny G. How many people understand your phrase "pollyanic drivel"? Love it. But I'm an eternal optimist.
Benny G. February 26, 2013 at 05:06 PM
Bob, there is no doubt that Bill Brown knows what it means.
Oreo Pie February 26, 2013 at 05:14 PM
Has anyone noticed that the State of Illinois (as well as many other states) has deeply cut funding for mental health services over the past 5 years? My organization has been fighting these cuts but, until recently, no one was speaking up against the cuts. Personally, I think Illinois should have a progessive income tax. Progressive taxation would allow Illinois to tax the wealthy 2% at a higher rate than the rest of us. Unfortunately, the 2% have effectively prevented that strategy in Illinois by prohibiting progressive taxation in the Illinois Constitution. To make matters worse, the State has given tax breaks to huge wealthy corporations that are hoarding their money rather than investing it in new projects and employees. Maybe it is time for an amendment to the Illinois Constitution?
Rich M February 26, 2013 at 05:16 PM
Typical modern helicopter parent over reaction B.S. And the same schmucks brag about how when they were kids they could ride in the front seat without a seat belt, not wear bicycle helmets, and BRING TOY GUNS TO SCHOOL. Total hypocrisy. Yes, your stupid armed guard would get killed immediately if there was another Sandy Hook killer. Unless you want to put kids in PRISON, you can't protect them. JUST LIKE IT HAS BEEN ALL THESE YEARS! There have always been child molesters. There have always been sexual predators. There have always been mass murderers. These are not modern inventions that came with the internet. The paranoia, thanks to the media, IS a modern invention. They have had the same semi-automatic weapons for decades. Now, all of a sudden, one or two nutjobs, and everything has to change? There are tens of million more people in the country since then, of course SOMEONE has to be unbalanced. But if you think that an armed guard would stop someone intent on killing, you are an IDIOT!!! It's a waste of money.
Roger February 26, 2013 at 05:32 PM
This is a very bad idea. There is no data to support Mr. Bernat's contentions. In fact, armed guards failed to stop Columbine and they would have failed at Sandy Hook. What is needed is more emphasis on mental health and working with students to spot troubled students and get them the help they need. Since these shootings have been tied to mentally ill individuals and instances of bullying, it would more productive to dedicate resources to their care and work on the bullying issues that plague all US schools.
Larry Jones February 26, 2013 at 05:58 PM
You obviously have a screw loose to brag that you are a proud member of the NRA
Benny G. February 26, 2013 at 06:02 PM
The way we deal with mental health only puts more trillions in big pharmas pockets. Unfortunately I have mo solutions either bit I'm not going to let my heart bleed with social change commentary...
Moe @ the Buck February 26, 2013 at 07:19 PM
This is a bad idea. Moe gives this two thumbs down. Is it too late to caption the dog with the remote?
Redhead February 26, 2013 at 09:41 PM
And, let's put an armed guard not only in every school, but in every mall and every stadium and at every art fair, movie theater, concert - any place where there are crowds. And let's hope that the guard has not gone to the bathroom when the incident occurs or to another floor in the building. This business of an armed guard in every school is such an NRA knee jerk response and the U.S. Congress has buckled under and bowed down to their rhetoric and money for so long they have forgotten what it's like to have minds of their own and pass bills which can have a real impact on gun violence in this country.
William d Brown February 27, 2013 at 12:54 AM
Would that be Pollyannic or as you put it Pollyanic?
Abecedarian February 27, 2013 at 02:34 AM
One study shows students trust cops more but trust their school less (when uniformed officers patrol schools).
Socorro"sissy" Ropiequet February 27, 2013 at 03:27 PM
Yes I do, but my son went to the school in Highland Park.We just move here a year ago. Believe me with all they talk about violence in Colombia, we've never seem here what has happened in the schools in U.S.A.. where upscale school 'kids are victims of sickos, bringing terror and despair to the entire nation and the world. Something is very wrong but safety should be o consideration.
Socorro"sissy" Ropiequet February 27, 2013 at 03:33 PM
It is better be safe than sorry. We don't need to freak out the kids, but grown-ups have to make sure the kids are safe when they leave home to go to school.. Armed guards would be the best option at least until a better solution (more of sociological re-evaluation) comes to the light .
Javier February 27, 2013 at 06:33 PM
Are your kids at a hgh risk for someone shooting their way into school Sandy Hook style, or are they at risk for a kid bringing a gun to school and pulling it out in a classroom (where the guard probably isn't located), or is the risk of something happening so low as to not warrant a military stance in a learning environment? Lock the doors during the day, have personnel aware of kids' psyches and involved in their activities, and chances are nothing will occur. That's what the schools are doing now. When you arm guards, you need to think about how much the school district will get sued for when a "trained" guard accidently shoots a student caught in the crossfire, making a seemingly aggressive move, acting weird, etc.? How much do you think your taxes will go up when the district has to take out more insurance to cover more risk in its operations? Arming citizen to gaurd the schools is just not worth it.
Sharon Meitin March 11, 2013 at 06:00 AM
There should be an armed guard posted at every single school at all times. Cameras can be destroyed. An armed guard would at least serve as a deterrent. There are too many copy cat murders in history to warrant sticking your heads in the sand, hoping that the national government is going to fix this. We have to take care of ourselves, our children and our community now. If break-ins and robberies were on the rise in your neighborhood, would you look into getting an alarm and increasing police surveillance in your area? Or would you sit on your hands and wait for someone to issue psychotherapy to all the criminals out there as an effort to keep them from becoming criminals in the first place? Makes some sense in theory, but is completely far fetched in reality. No, this isn't the wild west. However, from that time we as a people learned that our fundamental mission as human beings and citizens in a free country, is to protect our people, our children, our homes and our community. We also learned that in order to do that, you bring a gun to a knife fight; not a slingshot. Why not be proactive and preventative? How could you not? There is zero downside to armed guards in school. Zero. Think about all the security you have to go through in order to enter government buildings. Who is saying that the public schools, which are also government-funded facilities, aren't worthy of their own protection? Please open your eyes.
Socorro"sissy" Ropiequet March 11, 2013 at 01:47 PM
Welll said Sharon.
Sharon Meitin March 11, 2013 at 06:29 PM
thank you.
Sharon Meitin March 18, 2013 at 10:48 PM
Public schools are the most vulnerable and UNPROTECTED public buildings in the country. There has been a trend of disgruntled students, former students or random sociopaths taking out their frustrations by GUNNING-DOWN CHILDREN in the midst of their school day. Why? Because children the most devastating target. My guess is that a person who is psychologically demented enough, is going to commit this most heinous crime they possibly can. They are NOT thinking, "hmmm I think I'll hit the courthouse, because I'd rather give 20+ kindergarteners a change to live their lives." In other words, THEY ARE NOT RATIONAL BEINGS. STOP TREATING THE SITUATION AS ONE. Proportionally, THERE HAVE BEEN MORE INCIDENTS of this nature in PUBLIC SCHOOLS than ANY OTHER SINGLE type of GOVERNMENT BUILDING in this COUNTRY within the PAST 20 YEARS. And how does having an armed officer in each grammar school defy logic? Did we NOT LEARN from LORI DANN? Please. If someone can conjure-up a convincing argument, then enlighten me. Please. How many of the anti-security people have grade-school children? Or even grade-school grand children? In other words, how many of the anti-security people can relate, right now, at this moment in time, to looking into their 5,6,7-year-olds' big, innocent, well-intentioned eyes and saying, "have a great day at school honey. You're going to have a great day," and MEANING IT. To be continued.
Sharon Meitin March 18, 2013 at 11:50 PM
If you don't have school-aged family, I suggest you step down from your anti-security stance; not because you don't empathize with the victims & families, But because you, right now, can not directly relate. you can wake-up each day and know that a SHOOTING IN YOUR SCHOOL will not effect you. For the anti-security people who DO have school-aged family, I understand that the chance of a shooting occurring at an Sherwood or Lincoln etc is small. My question is, SINCE WHEN IS a SMALL LIKELIHOOD of a SCHOOL MASSACRE GOOD ENOUGH? Why accept ANY CHANCE of this happening again in OUR or ANY SCHOOLS in this nation? Why allow yourselves to be DESENSITIZED to the probability of horror inflicted on our children? Explain to me how you can turn your heads in the name of GUN CONTROL? Yes. I really hope that weapon control improves drastically. But you are absolutely kidding yourself to think that another Sandy Hook will be prevented from gun control. We have to take care of ourselves, and not WAIT for our BUREAUCRATIC system to act. The mass murders sure won't. I have to admit. Every day, when I send my 9-yr-old to school; when I think about sending my 2 yr-old to kindergarten, I DO NOT FEEL100% confident in their security. I don't. I try, but I don't. And that kills me as I'm sure it kills non-security parents too. Maybe it's just too scary a place to go and I get that. But ignorance is far from bliss here. No person or system is perfect. We all have the right to protect what we love.
Socorro"sissy" Ropiequet March 19, 2013 at 03:26 PM
Just because a person does not have school age kids does not mean that person is not concern with the events happening in the community specially when comes to children. Is everybody responsability to work in behalf of a safer world. Some of this people are going to be grandparents one day. Even if they don't, they empatize with all the parents of small children.
Sharon Meitin March 19, 2013 at 06:24 PM
YES You are CORRECT. Of course you don't need to have school-aged kids to understand the need for safety. I'm aware that I wrote a good amount last night, so it may have been easy to miss the part of my last post stating: "IF you don't have school-aged family, I suggest you step down from your anti-security stance; not because you don't EMPATHIZE with the victims & families,....." I wanted to make CLEAR that I do NOT consider the people who don't have family in public school to be aloof about school/childrens' safety. Not at all. Also, saying that a school shooting would "not effect" those individuals, was NOT the best choice of words. Of course every person with an ounce of decency would be "effected." What I was trying to say, is that the potential for violence in school MUST hit home MORE SO, to those who send their LITTLE wide-eyed, eager-to-learn boys and girls to these buildings EVERY day. Why? Because due to prior school shootings, statistically, the POTENTIAL is there for our KIDS to become victims of this ever increasing insanity. A parent with a child who fell VICTIM of the Sandy Hook massacre, is MUCH more effected than their neighbor, who does NOT have a DEAD child or grandchild to mourn. ....
Sharon Meitin March 19, 2013 at 06:33 PM
....after 9/11, wouldn't you be MORE concerned for your (or loved one's) safety if you worked in the Sears Tower 8+ hours per day, rather than a small building in Itasca? The person working in the Sears Tower can RELATE MORE to the people who WORKED in the World Trade Center. Both facilities are large, URBAN targets for terrorists. "Joe's" Paper company in Itasca is not. We entrust approximately HALF of our children's WAKING hours to the SCHOOL staff. Unfortunately school violence is progressing and the schools' methods of protecting the kids is NOT. It's backward to not amp-up security. Completely backward and disavowal of what's necessary for a school to function without underlying fear or ignorance.
Dan Cox April 13, 2013 at 06:07 PM
The Principal at Sandy Hook gave her life as an unarmed and defenseless woman against an Armed, Intruder / Attacker, she went above and beyound her duty as a Principal, yet it was in vain. We must have some means of defense and an Action Plan in place. I suggest that every Teacher and Staff Member be Trained as a Fire Fighter, with the use of a Class 3 Dry Compound Fire Extinguisher. It has 400 PSI and can fire a highly concentrated burst of dry compound up to 20ft. When properly used, it is a highly effective Self Defense tool. The attacker is blinded, cannot breath or hear, total disorientation and fear overwhelms the attacker. The attacker is thwarted and the threat has been eliminated without firing any bullets. The compound is UL Listed as non-toxic and an accidental misfire of the Fire Extinguisher will not wound anybody. The State of Illinois already requires that Fire Extinguishers be in every school, so there is no legal issue, only Training and a will to fight is all that is needed. A tool for defense, a tool for protection against fire or gunfire, lets put the fire out!

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