NEW YORK (AFP) - Amid a national debate on how to stop gun massacres in public places, one town in New Jersey began posting armed police at every school on the restart of the academic year Wednesday.
The new policy was the town of Marlboro's response to anguished questions over security in the wake of December's massacre in which a gunman shot 20 young children and six staff dead at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.
"The safety and security of our students, staff, and buildings are of utmost importance," the Marlboro education authority said on its website.
"To that end, and in response to the Newtown, CT tragedy, starting Wednesday, January 2, every Marlboro school will have an armed, uniformed Marlboro Township police officer." The measure will be in place for 90 days "while discussions about future security improvements are conducted," the statement added.
Deploying police full time at schools has become common in the United States (US) over the last two decades, according to a study sponsored by the Department of Justice.
"Nearly half of all public schools have assigned police officers," the 2010 study said, and "assigning officers to schools is becoming increasingly popular." But the Newtown shootings on December 14 added urgency to an already heated debate over how to protect schools and other public places.
Gun control advocates say US laws too easily allow criminals and deranged individuals access to powerful weapons. The main gun rights lobby, the National Rifle Association, says that the best way forward is to arm teachers - a strategy that has found favor in some western states, including Utah.
Reactions to Marlboro's initiative were mixed on the schools' Facebook page.
"I think this is a wonderful idea and every school should do it. I applaud Marlboro township for doing it!" one contributor said.
But another dismissed the idea, noting that several other major massacres over the years, including at schools, took place despite the presence of armed guards.
"This merely appeases parents, providing them with a false sense of security while doing nothing to address the real issues," she said.