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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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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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