Should armed guards be placed in all public schools in the Greater New Milford and Danbury area in the wake of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown on Dec. 14?

That is a question being raised in nearly every community after 20 first-graders and six educators were gunned down by a heavily armed madman in the most deadly grade-school massacre in United States history.

It is a question that will need to be answered fairly quickly in most school districts as the 2013-14 budget-making process heads toward the finish line.

The question about armed guards -- usually school resource officers -- has long been a controversial and emotional issue, and we believe it is one for which there is not necessarily one correct answer.

We often support state or federal guidelines and standards on issues that affect the lives or rights of most citizens.

But there are so many variables involved in the armed-guard debate that there really is no one-size-fits-all solution.

For that reason, even though we have misgivings about the value of armed guards in schools, we believe the decision on hiring such professionals should be made on a local basis.

Proponents of school resource officers argue that an armed presence serves as a deterrent to would-be shooters and that an SRO might stop or slow down an individual like Sandy Hook gunman Adam Lanza.

Proponents also point to the potential feeling of peace and security felt by students, staff members and parents, knowing there is an armed guard in the school.

Opponents point out the presence of armed guards didn't stop the mass shootings at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech and that one guard on a sizeable school campus can be easily avoided.

Opponents also lament the introduction of guns to the school environment and wonder about the impact of an armed presence on students' psyches.

And there are those on both sides of the issue who wonder who's going to pay for the guards -- at about $100,000 per SRO -- and what gets cut to pick up the tab.

Who's right?

It all depends on whom you ask, and in which community you raise the question.

Newtown, which currently has armed SROs at its high school, middle school and intermediate school, is planning to add armed guards at all four elementary schools in town -- an understandable response to the terrible tragedy suffered by the town.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are now no armed SROs in either Brookfield or the Region 12 towns of Washington, Bridgewater and Roxbury. However, following Sandy Hook, both school districts are planning to hire one armed school resource officer.

New Milford, which installed its first school resource officers following the massacre at Columbine in 1999, now has three SROs on duty on a rotating basis at the town's six schools.

Superintendent of Schools JeanAnn Paddyfote calls the arrangement "a wonderful set-up" and says the district has no plans to add any more SROs at this time.

In Danbury, there are currently armed officers at the high school and both middle schools, in addition to unarmed security personnel throughout the district.

Mayor Mark Boughton and Superintendent of Schools Sal Pascarella do not support putting armed guards in the city's 13 elementary schools, but a number of parents want to see that done, and officials are waiting for recommendations from a task force on school security.

Clearly, the needs of Newtown are different today than the needs of some of its neighboring towns.

Clearly, philosophies differ from town to town, school district to school district.

We hope the day will come when there will no longer be the need to even consider having armed guards in schools.

But until that day arrives, we believe each community should decide for itself how it wants to handle the matter off armed guards in its schools.