It's been a week since the mass shooting Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 students and teachers lost their lives. And in that week, a national debate on gun control and gun violence prevention has ensued. From banning assault weapons to providing weapons to teachers, everyone seems to have an opinion on how to prevent these tragedies from happening. But should teachers carry guns? I asked teachers to break down the problem with "arming educators," as it has been suggested more than once and by some of the most powerful people in government. People who don't already have the awesome responsibility of educating our children need to understand what's being purposed when people suggest we give educators weapons.
During the Feb. 21 listening session between President Donald Trump and Parkland, Columbine, and Sandy Hook students, teachers, and parents, the president said the idea of arming teachers and school staff is something they're "very strongly" considering. CNN reports that while Trump promises his administration will "look strongly into gun purchase ages," as well as the "mental health aspect," he also believes arming "up to 20 percent of teachers" is the answer to ending school shootings. But what do teachers think?
Politico reports that the majority of educators are vehemently opposed to the idea. While some lawmakers across the nation have fought to lessen firearm restrictions in K-12 schools and allow concealed weapons to be carried by trained staff, there are many who believe adding guns to a teacher's already overwhelming list of responsibilities is too much to ask. The National Association of School Resource Officers agrees, and reports that arming teachers will only add to the increase of gun violence, not lessen it.
So with that in mind, here's why arming our underpaid, overworked teachers could prove to be a mistake of our own doing, according to teachers themselves.
"I am a teacher and I have yet to meet another teacher who actually thinks we should be armed, and we're even in a very rural area where everyone loves their guns. The thing is, we're already savagely underpaid. We have to buy our own supplies and anything else we might need to do our jobs. Guns are not even remotely affordable for us. And if you're saying the government suddenly has money for guns, ammo, and training, I guarantee every teacher worth their breath will demand that money for our classrooms, for engaging activities, for counselors, for outreach. If you pay us enough to live comfortably so we don't have to work ourselves to death outside the school and fund our classrooms so that our students can have an interactive and connecting experience that isn't so focused on testing, maybe we'd have less shooters in the first place.
Additionally, I may be a teacher but I will not die for your kids. Some teachers might, but I won't. Nor should I be expected to. In a life or death situation I am saving myself. And by the way, you have seen news stories of teachers getting arrested for all sorts of abuse of mishandling situations, and you want to give them guns? That's not even mentioning the copious amounts of scientific statistics that clearly show beret gun control is the answer. Not more guns."
"I'm an adjunct lecturer and I'm married to a cop. I know what and how he's had to train [in order] to be ready in situations like that. I'm not built for that. I'm built to teach college kids how to examine research data and cope with college life. I'd freeze up. I'd shoot the wrong person or hurt myself. I'd panic."
"I have been a teacher since 2007, and have taught in two states (Montana and Washington), and in both urban and rural districts. Arming teachers is an incredibly stupid, myopic, and dangerous idea. First, this assumes that the teachers who would sign up to be 'marshals' in their school are mentally and emotionally capable of not being the shooters themselves, which is a pretty damn big gamble. As someone with a history of mental illness, I wouldn't want to be the one carrying and I wouldn't want to know who had the guns.
People who become teachers are generally the kind of people who care deeply and compassionately about students. How would that person be able to hold a gun up to a child and kill him? How do you train a teacher to do that? What special switch would that person need to turn off the part that wants to keep kids safe, and turn on the part that can be fine with killing one? Who trains these teachers? The police? The army? Or are we to assume these teachers don't receive special training at all? Who's at fault if the teacher aims to kill the shooter and the gunfire kills innocent students and staff in the process? Is it the teacher's fault? The school's fault? What if the police mistake the teacher as the gunman and kill the teacher? Whose fault is that? Who will sue whom, and which side will win in the inevitable court cases that will arise from this idiotic idea?
Also, who owns the gun? The school? The teacher? If it's the school, and is like any other piece of district property, that means multiple people would have access to the gun. How would a school or district ensure that no one else uses the gun improperly? Does the gun get left at school when the teacher goes home at night? If so, how is it secured so that it can be quickly and easily accessed when needed? What if a teacher forgets once? How do you keep kids from finding out which teachers or administrators have guns and then stop them from attempting to access them? Students know everything about their schools.
What kind of continued mental healthcare will the school provide a teacher who kills a child? Who pays for it and what will this mean for insurance? How much more insurance will already-strapped school districts have to pay in order to have classrooms filled with guns? How will this impact employee insurance? Will teachers and staff members have fewer insurance options with higher premiums because they work in an at-risk career field?
I have so many more questions, as do most of us, and there aren't any answers. Arming teachers is not a solution, because it misses the whole damn point. Schools are not war zones. Teachers are not soldiers. And any movement to push them into that direction is misguided and will result in more gun deaths, not fewer, and anyone with common sense can see that.
To make these points clearer, once, while I was sitting in a staff meeting, a fellow teacher, who I get along with very well despite our political differences, leaned over to me and said, completely out of the blue, "I get so angry sometimes I scare myself." Another teacher at the table heard him say this as well, and looked at me completely puzzled. He repeated, "I'm so, so angry." It came out of nowhere and had nothing to do with the topic at hand. That guy is pro-gun.
Another time, a few weeks ago, two boys wanted to get into their classroom before school started and the teacher had locked his door while he monitored the hallway. So the boys used a broken protractor to pick the lock to get into his classroom, which was the wood/mechanical shop. They went through the teacher's desk and stole some of his things. The room was filled with large, dangerous machinery. The whole teaching staff was livid when the boys received a slap on the wrist considering what they could have done if they'd taken the knives, saws, etc. out of the room. Imagine if, in his desk, they found a gun instead of candy."
"Where exactly will we keep these guns where the students can't reach them, but we can access them in an emergency? Who will train us to use them? We can't get PD on the issues we face in teaching these kids, but we can on how to use a gun? I have no illusions that handing me a gun would ever be a good idea. I would be the first to shoot my eye out! Trump's budget severely slashed Title 1 funds this year, so I have been unable to purchase the books and supplies I need, but he's going to give schools to buy everyone a gun!?!?!
Also, I would not feel comfortable entering a building everyday knowing that at least 20 percent of my colleagues were armed. But pretend that I agree that we should inundate our schools with weapons, because that's obviously what civilized societies do, how effective would my handgun be against an AR-15? Nearly, if not all, of the carnage caused in these tragedies is with an AR-15. What chance do I have to win the gunfight? How many rounds do I have compared to the bad guy with the weapon of mass destruction? Will Trump splurge for extra clips or do I have to stop and reload?"
"I can shoot, but I have no desire to carry a gun at school. We will start looking like prisons. There is enough liability with teaching."
"One point my husband made when we were discussing the issue is extra stray bullets and multiple potential shooters. If you have a teacher who is briefly trained in using a firearm, attempt to hit an active shooter, what happens if/when he misses? If the shooter is surrounded by kids trying to flee, how can the teacher be sure to hit just the shooter and not hit anyone else accidentally. They would have to get close enough to ensure that wouldn't be an issue, and get close enough without being seen or shot themselves. Also, how do they know who is the defensive and who is the aggressive shooter? They hear gunshots, run into the hall with their gun, and they see two people with a gun shooting at one another, who is the bad guy?
School shooters have generally killed themselves. They won't care that there are armed teachers in the school. They don't care about surviving, they just want to harm others. Armed teachers won't stop them, it will just create confusion among first responders and anyone else around them. Military members are trained and trained and trained to deal with situations like these, teachers are not. Teachers not only don't have the money but they don't have the time to become specialists in active shooting drills. Also, what about the possibility of disgruntled students getting their hands on guns that they know are in schools? How are they going to be stored or taken care of?"
"Is there a way this is more of a deterrent then an actual expectation that teachers will be shooting? A sort of: 'I heard teachers here could be armed so I will stay far away'?"
"As a kindergarten teacher, I would not want to have 'ready to use a gun if needed' on my endless list of duties as a primary teacher. If every teacher was armed, that would be 30 guns in my school alone. Thirty guns that could be misfired in a place that is full of children. Thirty guns that can be taken away with force from an intruder, parent, or disgruntled community member.
My job is to be a love-giving, book-reading, shoe-tying, nose-wiping, song-singing [person]. My job is be a count-to-100 teacher at any given second in the classroom. I do not want gun-slinging added to that. Teachers already use their own money for so many teaching supplies. So many budgets would never allow the cost for the training and purchase of so many weapons. But where would you safely store a gun in the classroom? I certainly couldn't be wearing it when I get 50 hugs a day and multiple tugging on my clothes. I am not at all comfortable with guns so this would be an extra stress on an already sometimes stressful job."
"A gun that comes into the classroom is always going to be a gun. No matter where it is mounted. No matter that it is locked. No matter that someone at some time has been trained in the when and where of its usage. My concern with arming teachers is that the gun now becomes part of a lock-down drill, as it is now part of the school's safety plan. It is part of the steps. It is in the moment. It is in the debriefing after the lock down drill. When does it become something that the teacher talks about with kids. Standing near a gun or standing near someone holding a gun is not part of our normal school day. It changes the way we talk about safety in the room. And it can never be anything but a gun.
In my classroom, we have decorative stones in a bowl. I have old pool table balls I have purchased at Goodwill. Thrown in the interest of protecting ourselves, I have little doubt that we couldn't cause enough of a deterrent and a whole lot of chaos. I stand near a locked door with a piece of our old gym floor. I have one swing and a love for life, my students and my own. But, before all of this, we have talked. We have talked through the what the room looks like in the case of the what if. This is the essential talk."