Protesters attend a March for Our Lives rally against gun violence at city hall in Los Angeles, Calif., on June 11. The initiative in North Carolina would arm schools with an AR-15 assault rifle, which would be locked in a gun safe and be available to responding police in the event of an attack. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo
Aug. 8 (UPI) -- A sheriff in rural North Carolina is planning to equip all local public schools with AR-15 assault rifles this year to give police officers more firepower in the event of a mass shooting.
Madison County Sheriff Buddy Harwell first announced the "School Safety Initiative" on Facebook in June, but his plan didn't garner much media attention until last Friday when it was reported that school officials had embraced the high-powered rifles as a means to protect teachers and students.
The assault rifles would be locked in a safe somewhere inside the school and be available to responding police in the event of an attack.
"Every day you turn on the TV and somebody's been shot, somebody's been stabbed, somebody's been murdered, raped," Harwell said in a five-minute video posted to Facebook.
"We live in Western North Carolina, a rural county, but we've got to be prepared even in our rural counties for the enemy when he tries to come in and destroy our children."
Harwell said the weapons would be stored in gun safes that are placed in undisclosed locations at each school. Madison County is located in northwestern North Carolina, near Asheville.
The owner of a gun shop holds an AR-15 assault rifle at his store in Bridgeton, Mo. The weapon is a civilian version of the military M16 and is also similar to the M4 carbine assault rifle. File Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI
The sheriff's plan came after the deadly attack at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, in May, which killed 19 young students and two educators.
Since the Uvalde attack, there has been major debate about congressional gun safety efforts and what defensive roles, if any, schools or teachers should have if a school is attacked.
The AR-15, which is essentially a civilian version of the military's M16, has evolved into a weapon of choice for mass shooters. The gunmen in the attacks in Uvalde and Buffalo, N.Y., in May were armed with an AR-15.
Police in Uvalde have been heavily criticized for failing to act to disarm the shooter and save children's lives. Officers waited for more than an hour before they entered a classroom and killed the shooter, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos.
Municipal leaders in Madison County and residents raised the money to arm the North Carolina schools with the guns. Harwell has said that the handguns carried by deputies weren't enough to "stop these animals."
In late July, Madison County school administrators met with Harrell and other law enforcement officials to discuss safety measures for the new school year.
Critics of the initiative say Harwell's plan could lead to unintended consequences.
"What's going to happen is we're going to have accidents with these guns," said University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill professor Dorothy Espelage, according to the Charlotte Observer. "Why is it that they have to have these AR-15s? ... It doesn't make any sense."
Mourners gather at a memorial of flowers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 30, 2022. A mass shooting days before left 19 children and two adults dead at the elementary school. Photo by Jon Farina/UPI | License Photo