Arming teachers in schools: An argument against

Because we trust our children to teachers doesn’t mean we should trust teachers to protect them against armed assailants

Author’s Note: Let me be clear that I am not opposed to armed protection in schools. I think local governments, police, schools and their communities should decide that. I urge these groups to put school shootings in context. Second, I want to thank George T. Williams for debating this issue with me. He sets a gold standard for respectful, well-reasoned discourse. We hope to spark discussion which may lead to ideas better than our own. 

Kids probably spend more time at school than any place except home. And less than two percent of all youth homicides occur there. Children are safer in school than at home or on the highway.

Mass shootings anywhere are senseless and horrific, but they are especially so when children perish. We understandably feel shocked, outraged and driven to react.

But I have serious reservations that arming untrained teachers is a wise reaction.

Humbled by a firearms training Simulator

I got my teacher’s certification after student teaching in an elementary school. I also carry and have completed numerous tactical pistol trainings alongside law enforcement, which had as their stated objective to condition participants “to respond instantly to any prevail in any encounter.”

Then, I was humbled by a firearms training simulator. I killed an undercover cop, two innocent bystanders to a bank robbery and got myself repeatedly killed without saving anyone.

An active shooter in a densely populated environment might not present a “high-level skills” task for a tactical expert. I question whether most lay people would agree. Add elevated heart rate, tunnel vision and auditory exclusion and even simple tasks become complex.

I don’t think teachers armed for the purpose of protecting students and staff can be equated with private citizens carrying. When I carry, I have no responsibility to protect others. I can choose to flee and leave others to danger. Nor does society have any expectation I will assume risks to protect others.

I can’t imagine teachers armed for the purpose of protecting students and staff feeling that same freedom. We’ve seen the heroic sense of responsibility teachers have when they are unarmed. The recommendation to arm them is with the expectation they will protect others.

Responsibility should be accompanied by qualifications and competencies. The greater the responsibility, the more qualifications and competencies needed.

Because we trust our children to teachers doesn’t mean we should trust teachers to protect them against armed assailants. We also trust our children to doctors and babysitters.

We trust teachers to educate – in no small part because they generally must have a college degree with requisite hours in teaching methodology and subject content, successfully complete student teaching, and pass a certification exam.

Pandora’s Box of Questions

Just as the question of whether citizens should be permitted to possess firearms is not answered by one person’s misuse of them, so too the question of whether arming teachers with no training or demonstrated competency is a good idea is not answered by one assistant principal holding an armed intruder at gunpoint until police arrived.

I also don’t think state laws that permit someone who has reached adulthood without a felony conviction to carry for personal protection set appropriate standards for arming teachers for the purpose of protecting students and staff against an armed assailant.

I accept cost is a factor. Otherwise we’d have sufficient numbers of School Resource Officers in every school. What number it would take to secure against a determined, deranged individual is unclear.

Fort Hood proved a mass shooting can occur on a “secure” military base. But we shouldn’t accept politicians saying we can’t afford any training for teachers who are willing to arm themselves to protect students and staff. Let us remind politicians – we are the political reality.

If we accept that teachers armed to protect students and staff should receive some training and demonstrate some safety and competency, then we open a Pandora’s Box of questions that must be answered:

  • What training is adequate?
  • Who will provide and pay for it, and the teachers’ time and expenses?
  • Who will assess mastery of the training and how?
  • What if a teacher fails the assessment but wants multiple chances at the training?
  • What about the workmen’s compensation claims for injuries during the training?
  • What about the lawsuits for negligent training?

I choose to have guns in my home knowing there is incontrovertible evidence that doing so makes it statistically many times more likely there will be a death or injury to me, my family or guests by one of those guns. 

I use the evidence to keep my guns as safely as possible. Accidental gun deaths show too many gun owners and their children don’t abide by the four basic cardinal rules of gun safety.

Numerous states permit gun ownership and carrying without knowing these rules.

Parents and teachers should be educated on the evidence of significant increased risk of accidental gun injuries and deaths posed by guns carried by teachers who are not required to have any training or demonstrate even basic gun safety.

This risk may be why SHOT Show and Crossroads of the West – two of the largest gun shows in the country – don’t rely on state laws, but instead prohibit their Second Amendment enthusiasts from bringing any loaded firearm into the shows. They both cite safety concerns. This may also be why Utah educators have mixed reactions to guns in schools. 

There’s another reason we shouldn’t task teachers with the armed protection of our schools. We already ask too much of them. In addition to educating, we expect them to maintain order, discipline, and nurture self-esteems.

When I carry, I have a heightened vigilance. Without it, what’s the point of carrying? Vigilance requires attention.

So does teaching. Which task do we want attention taken from – educating or protecting against an armed assailant?

Bottom line: To the extent a community decides it needs armed protection in schools against heavily armed assailants, it shouldn’t rely on teachers with no training or demonstrated competency to provide it.

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