To Arm or Not to Arm Teachers, That is The Question

By Dan Schmitt | March 1, 2018 |   

In the aftermath of the Parkland school shooting, President Trump has suggested numerous steps to decrease such massacres in the future. One of his ideas, an idea that the NRA leadership fully supports, is to arm teachers. As an Elk Grove Unified School District teacher for over 30 years, I can say, unequivocally, that this is a terrible idea.

First, teaching is an all-consuming profession. It consumes our intellect, our emotions, and our time.  During my teaching career, I rarely had evenings or weekends completely to myself because there were lessons to plan, essays to read, and assignments to grade. 

Simply put, educators do not have the time to develop the skills and proficiencies necessary to be “armed police teachers.” Most police academy training lasts about 19 weeks. During this training, police recruits spend about 110 hours on firearm skills and self-defense. Then, most law enforcement officers must certify their firearm skills by qualifying with their weapons one to six times each year.  Allowing teachers to be armed should require at least as much training as our law enforcement personnel receive. No teacher I know has the time to receive such initial and on-going firearm training. The old adage “If you want something done right, give it to a busy person” does not apply in this situation.
And consider this: except for the hours spent at home, students spend more time at school than any other place. School is considered a student’s “second home.”

There’s a plethora of research that shows guns in the home do not make people safer. According to a recent study published in 2017, seventy-eight children and adolescents die each year by unintentional injury involving a firearm. These accidents involving loaded, unsecured guns occur mostly in homes.

Indeed, our own Elk Grove Police Department website offers the following suggestions concerning weapons in the home:

Think long and hard about having weapons, especially firearms, in your home. Studies show that a firearm in the home is more than forty times as likely to hurt or kill a family member as to stop a crime. Look at other ways to protect yourself and your home. Invest in top-grade locks, jamming devices for doors and windows, a dog, or an alarm system. Start or join a Neighborhood Watch.
If you do choose to own firearms - handguns, rifles, or shotguns - make sure they are safely stored. That means unloaded, trigger-locked, and in a locked gun case or pistol box, with ammunition separately locked. Store keys out of reach of children, away from weapons and ammunition. Check frequently to make sure this storage remains secure.”

Ignoring the research on guns in the home, our president and the NRA leadership are convinced that putting weapons in the possession of classroom teachers is a good idea that would make the schools safer.  On the contrary, it’s a recipe for potential disaster.

A typical classroom is a rather small room filled with lots of students. During my teaching career, my classes had anywhere from 30 to 42 students in them. Despite the crowdedness, these rooms were functional under normal conditions. Guns in classrooms would have to be stored in safe places or carried by the teachers.  Anyone who has spent time in a typical American classroom knows that the desk drawers, cabinets and cupboards are intended for supplies such as books, writing utensils and paper. They are not places for weapons. A person determined to cause harm could easily get into these storage places. Classrooms might be outfitted with highly secure weapons lockers, but that would limit easy access by the teachers if a crisis arose and the weapon was immediately needed.
Teachers “packing heat” could be even more dangerous. Chaotic, volatile (but not deadly) situations occasionally occur in the classroom, especially in high school, where teachers are required to make split-second decisions: students aggressively arguing; students physically fighting; a student becoming overly aggressive towards the teacher. In these situations, it is normal for the brain to switch into the “fight or flight” mode. A teacher having access to a gun in a small room full of students could turn a bad situation into a tragedy.

In the event of a worst case scenario, an armed intruder on campus, do we really want an undertrained teacher whose brain is in “fight or flight” mode, participating in a “Gunfight at the OK Corral” with scores of students caught in the middle? And, armed teachers could make a situation more chaotic and dangerous for law enforcement coming on the scene.  With multiple people having guns drawn and firing amongst possibly hundreds of students, how are these first responders supposed to identify the bad guy from the good guy?

To suggest that arming teachers would make our school campuses safer is nothing short of disingenuous.  It deflects attention from the real issues like easy access to weapons such as the AR-15 and large capacity magazines which are the weapons of choice for anyone intent on massacring innocent people.

POSTSCRIPT:  Reader, if you find yourself thinking, “the writer is stating the obvious,” I agree.  In a world of rational thought, the obvious does not need to be expressed.  However, our current president and the NRA leadership do not live in such a world.  

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Tracy said...
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Tracy said...
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Tracy said...

Resubmitted earlier comment with corrections.

First, your comment that the training requirements for police officers is incorrect. The firearm portion of a police officer attending POST training at the academy is 62 not 110 hours. The portion of POST training for police officer (for the State of California) is called PC832 (Arrest and Firearm Training Specifications). The training for use of a firearm is 24 hours. You as a teacher will not need to learn tactics and other skill to engage a shooter. Much of what you will need to learn is cover by the current requirement for California CCW holders. There are nearly 8000 CCW holders in Sacramento County as of April 16, 2016 (per SACBEE article dated April 23, 2016, Concealed gun permits soar in Sacramento County.

Presently, there are 18 states that allow armed teachers in their schools. So far I have been able to find one account where a student was able to get a hold of a teacher’s firearm by accident, or the teacher being irresponsible resulting in the death of a student. I have learned that the current protocol for active shooting on a school is to follow the lock-down procedures, secure the room, and the armed teacher is to wait until the police arrive. They are not to actively seek out and engage the school shooter. That is a police responsibility, not a teacher. This policy is the same advice given by law enforcement and responsible gun rights advocates. If a homeowner is confronted by a possible intruder in their home. They should go to a room with the children, lock the door, call the police, and wait until help arrives.
I sincerely doubt that during any potential school shooting, the children or teenagers locked in a classroom with an armed teacher will object while a maniac roams the hallways looking for victims.

Second, as to the number of children and adolescents whom die from unintentional injury involving a firearm. I have no doubt that nearly all these deaths are due to unsecured firearms in the home by irresponsible adults. Unless it is school policy is to keep firearms in a unlock drawer, I seriously doubt this type of accident will occur. Yes mistakes will happen, there is a risk that something can go wrong. But, if you are willing to accept police make mistakes, then eventually a teacher will make a mistake with a firearm. I believe that the risk is acceptable. I challenge the writer of this article to list the number of such accidents involving an armed teacher.

Third, the comments regarding the safe carrying or storage of firearms on school grounds. It will be up to the school policy as to how the firearm will be stored or carried. There are currently a list of STATE approved gun safes, Cal. Pen. Code, § 25105. Safes are not expensive and can be fixed to a structure within the classroom out of reach of students.
As to personally carrying a firearm concealed on your person, that would I think be up to the individual teacher and the school district policy. I would like to acknowledge the actions at Parkland, Florida of the teachers died protecting their students. Scott Beigel died by shepherding his student into the classroom first, thereby exposing himself to the shooter. Assistant football Coach Aaron Feis died by placing himself between the shooter and his students. If teachers are willing to die for their students, shouldn't we trust them enough to decide if they wish to take on the additional responsibility to do so armed, and with an opportunity to save themselves and their students.

Tracy said...

Fourth, gun right advocate I heard is recommending giving "UNDERTRAINED TEACHERS" firearms. The idea that there will be a teacher facing off against a mass shooter like an OK Corral is ridiculous. The probability of multiple opponents standing like in a western like movie is just so much more hyperbole. Following the lock-down procedures, securing yourself and your students in a classroom. Wait for the police to come. Just follow the police directions regarding the securing any firearm. Everyone would be safer than just posting a GUN FREE ZONE sign outside the school.

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