2018-03-07 / Opinions

Arming teachers is a terrible idea


School shootings have become so commonplace that many students now identify themselves as the “school shooting” generation. Because of this sad situation, many people — exemplified by the NRA and President Trump— have proposed more guns as the solution. They seem to think that putting guns in the hands of teachers is the solution to a school shooting. From their perspective, “the only way to stop a bad man with a gun is with a good man with a gun.” This is utter nonsense!

The truth is that in gunfights, the police hit their targets (they call them threats) about 18 percent of the time. Do the NRA and President Trump really think teachers can do better?

I personally don’t think arming teachers is a good idea for the following reasons:

First, when law enforcement officers respond to school shootings they are in a highly emotional state, arrive with their weapons drawn, and will engage any unknown individual with a gun. If that happens to be a teacher with a weapon, then he is a dead man.

How law enforcement officers confront an active school shooter is divided into before Columbine and after Columbine. Before the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, where the two shooters roamed the school for nearly 50 minutes, killing 13 and wounding 21, police strategy was to wait for the SWAT team to arrive while the students were being killed. After Columbine, the police approach changed. Whoever is there with a gun (be it the first sheriff ’s deputy to arrive or a school resource officer) runs toward the gunfire and engages the threat with their gun. From my perspective, that is the way it should be.

Second, teachers are simply not mentally prepared to take a life, especially the life of one of their students. The mission description of a law enforcement officer encompasses the use of deadly force. The mission description of a teacher encompasses educating that student. It is unrealistic to expect educators who serve a nurturing, supportive, role with children to instantaneously adopt the mindset to kill one of his or her students. Police officers train their entire career and enter each individual encounter with a preparedness and a “kill or be killed” mindset that is different from the professional training and mindset of educators.

Third, regular practice with a weapon is required to use a firearm safely and effectively especially under high stress conditions. In a previous career, one of my instructors once said that after you have fired 10,000 rounds then you MIGHT just start to become effective with a weapon. A teacher simply does not have the time to practice when grades are due, principals are complaining, and parents are whining.

Fourth, teachers who carry a weapon may not secure it properly. They have not or will not receive the training that enables them to overcome attempts by others to access their weapons. Gun grabs are quite common in push and shove affairs.

Fifth, discharging a firearm in a school crowded with students is an extremely risky action. Teachers simply do not have the time to devote to acquiring the ability to quickly evaluate the risks of firing. Whether to shoot or not to shoot requires constant practice to develop the judgment necessary to quickly and correctly make those decisions.

Sixth, teachers carrying guns will change the dynamic, interpersonal relationship between the teacher and the student. The teacher will now be perceived as an extension of the law enforcement community and not a part of the education community.

Seventh, I don’t think people who propose arming teachers really comprehend the liability that comes with arming teachers. I firmly believe that assessing that liability is beyond the expertise, knowledge base, experience, and professional capabilities of most school boards and superintendents. They must do the due diligence required of their position and assess the liability the school district will incur if they decide to arm teachers.

Eighth, by arming our teachers we are extending a militarized state into the schools that would only serve to undermine the constitution by affecting our individual liberty. I am not sure we want to trade our individual liberty for safety by arming our teachers. To arm teachers, in my opinion, crosses the line of self-protection and protection of one’s family by tasking educators to provide a law enforcement function for our students. From my perspective, this begins to border on an authoritarian police state.

Ninth, here are some question from the National School Safety and Security Services that are typically asked of the school board and superintendent of schools before they decide to arm teachers. These questions are not intended to be all-inclusive but to give a sampling of the issues that will need to be addressed by the school board if teachers are to be armed.

Has the school board addressed the impact of armed teachers on the school district’s insurance and potential legal liability posture? If self-insured, is the school board able to handle potential lawsuit judgments against them for cases resulting from this practice? If insured by a private carrier, what is the insurance provider’s position and concerns, or, alternatively, will they even insure the school district for armed teachers?

Does the school board have appropriate and adequate policies and procedures governing the carrying and use of firearms by teachers?

Does the school board have a “use of force continuum” policy in place to handle arming teachers? How does the school continuum of force policy measure up to the law enforcement continuum of force policy?

Has the school board identified the type of firearms (types of guns, caliber of weapons, etc.) teachers are authorized to carry? Will teachers carry their own personal firearms or school district-issued firearms? If teachers carry their own personal weapons, what responsibilities does the school board and the superintendent assume for making sure the firearms carried are functional? Does the school district have regular “inspections” of teacher firearms to make sure they are functional and appropriate to policy, and if so, who on the school staff is responsible for that function and what is their level of expertise and training to make such decisions?

Has the school board identified what type of firearms training the school district will provide on a regular, ongoing basis to those teachers it authorizes to carry a firearm? Will the school district build and operate its own firearms range? Who on the school staff is qualified to provide such training, operate a firearms range, etc.? Will firearms certification and recertification be added to the school district’s professional development training program each year?

Has the school board identified the weapons retention training that will be provided to the teachers who will be armed? What training, procedures, and policies have been put in place if a teacher is intentionally disarmed by a student or other person? What training, procedures, and policies have been put in place if a firearm is dislodged from a teacher’s control when he/she breaks up a fight in a cafeteria or hallway?

Has the school board put in place the policies to prevent and manage situations when teachers lose, misplace, or have their firearms stolen while in school or at home?

Has the school board put in place the policy to manage an accidental shooting that could occur?

Has the school board considered employing a school resource officer or its own trained, commissioned, and certified school police officer who is a school district employee?

Finally, as you can see, arming a teacher goes beyond simply giving that teacher a concealed carry permit and then having them strap on a gun. Unlike a police officer who is being trained and licensed under a state law to carry a firearm, school districts that permit teachers to carry firearms on campus are, in effect, deploying those teachers in a public safety capacity to protect the students with the public expectation and assumption that they can provide a firearms-related level of public safety protection services comparable to that of professional law enforcement officers.

Providing, for example, 132 hours of firearms training on firing, handling, and holstering a gun and thinking it somehow makes a teacher suddenly qualified to provide public safety services is an insult to our highly trained police professionals and a high-risk to the safety of our students.

Arming teachers is simply a bad idea!

J.T. Oney lives in Mayking. He is an Adjunct Professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College.

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