This is America. We want to believe that if there is a problem anywhere that involves violence, then we should be able to overcome it with even more violence. But, sometimes that just won’t work.
Following the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the media breathlessly waited for a news conference the NRA announced. That press conference set a new low for sheer weirdness seeming more like a fevered nightmare that a PR pro with the flu might have in the middle of the night. By the end it was obvious that the NRA was simply doubling down on its usual response to any gun violence — more guns in even more public places.
The key statement in that strange presser was when NRA Vice-President Wayne LaPierre famously said, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun.”
The NRA went on to start promoting armed teachers and administrators in the schools. And right-wing legislators, especially in western states, dutifully followed orders and started passing legislation that would at least allow, if not promote, just that. The most recent and extensive has been Missouri.
My Personal Familiarity with Guns
I am very familiar with firearms, having grown up on a farm in Oklahoma where I learned how to hunt as a child following along when my family went quail hunting and later learning how to handle a shotgun. That was way back when the NRA mainly was known for its gun safety courses and publications. That was before the arms manufacturers took it over as a lobbying/astroturf wing of their industry.
20+ years ago, I was certified to work armed security, and did so while I was going back to school to become a teacher. Nowadays, I have a concealed carry permit. So I am personally familiar and comfortable with handling guns. I’m just opposed to bad schemes for the use of guns, which seem to abound these days. The worst of them is arming teachers as a way to deal with mass school shootings.
“Good Guy With A Gun” Still Makes a Gun Present
What every police officer is trained to remember, and everyone who is armed should remember: Once you walk into a room, you know that there is at least one gun present in the room. That means there are thousands of negative potentials to the situation, none of which the National Rifle Association is willing to acknowledge. And if the gun is carried openly where it is easily accessed, others can easily access it, too. That added factor means there are thousands more negative potentials.
When you add to that an extremely emotional and unstable environment like a school, then there are millions of negative potentials to a teacher carrying a gun whether concealed or open.
Making sure that the odds don’t work against the one carrying the gun is what the police train for monthly. And it is in the forefront of any school resource officer’s mind as they work their way through each day because again, every place they go, they know that at least one gun is present.
Are resource officers in schools important to school safety? In many cases, yes. But they are only effective if they have a limited and focused scope of what they are doing.
Missouri has tried to reassure critics that their teachers who are trained will be equipped with a special soft bullet that will lodge only in the first person that it hits. This completely ignores the largest concern in any shooting, especially where semi-automatic weapons are involved that quickly put a lot of bullets in the air — background.
Shootouts are chaotic, unpredictable situations. Inevitably the intended target is not hit with every shot fired. Where do those shots go? Police officers are trained and then drilled over and again at recognizing the background to the target they are about to engage. They are expected to recognize innocents in the background and adjust to make sure that they are not hit.
What’s in the most likely background of any target in a school during a shootout? Students and teachers are, and at very close, dense quarters. That’s why I support specialized and specially trained resource officers who are there to focus solely on safety. It takes a 100% mental effort to get it even close to right.
Teachers have to grapple with students sometimes in school. Not every situation is a lethal one requiring a lethal response. Fights are emotional and adrenalin-driven, and cannot be addressed by armed personnel. It’s too easy for the weapon to be taken, which could turn a violent situation into a lethal one.
Just this week a teacher in Utah accidentally discharged her gun while in the toilet, blowing up a commode and getting injured in her legs from fragments of the commode. She, the students, and other faculty in her school were lucky in this situation.
Each year well-trained police officers are injured and even killed by accidents on duty with their own service weapons. Guns themselves are indiscriminate tools. They shoot what is in their way when the trigger is pulled whether it is accidental or not.
Yet, how many times do we see police dramas where the officers shoot themselves in the leg or rear end? Hardly ever. Yet, that is the most common injury to police officers in accidental discharges. We just think that with guns, everything is going to go the way that we think it should. The reality is far different. Accidents do happen.
Adding to Teacher Overload
Teachers have millions of things that occupy our minds each day. Each student brings their own set of challenges to the teacher each day of the typical 9-month school year. Multiply that times 25 or 35 for the elementary teacher or 150 for the average high school teacher and you have a situation where it’s all that a teacher can do to carry out their teaching job of relating to their students and shepherding them into new understandings of the world around them.
Teachers cannot stay focused on the safety of gun retention, and awareness of background as they are focused on the millions of teaching factors each day. It is just not possible to do all of that the right way. So, when it comes to the attention of the teacher, something will suffer in that equation, and no matter what it is, good will not come out of it.
The best relationships with students involve trust, comfort, and the teachers love of the subject. It involves promoting curiosity about the subject. It requires 100% of the teacher’s effort to do that, and it’s the largest aspect of teaching that others just don’t understand. There can’t be that role, and then added to that, the role of security person worrying about how best to use a weapon.
It results in yet more teacher overload, which has been a spiraling problem for years now.
I am not proposing that we simply do nothing. There are many alternatives. Here are some starters:
- Community coordination of social workers, pastors, police, and school personnel need more coordination and information sharing to identify and interrupt violent situations before they happen.
- Schools must take added responsibility to manage who comes and goes at the building level.
- Teachers, administrators, and staff need much more training on how to recognize a violent situation as it begins and how to respond in each particular building.
- Unarmed staff should train in choosing when and how to use their typical advantage of superior numbers to quickly disarm a shooter in the building.
- Armed resource officers should never be distracted from their primary job of protecting the whole building of staff and students. Having those officers taking up time arresting students for simple misbehavior is a sign of lazy or incompetent school administrators.
Oppose Any Effort to Arm Teachers at School
For all of these reasons, it is important to oppose any and all efforts by gun manufacturer lobbyists to allow or require teachers to be armed at school. Pay close attention to bills being proposed in this upcoming legislative session. Vote for candidates who do not believe that a gun is the answer to every large problem.
Armed teachers in the classroom are not the answer to mass school shootings.