Armed teachers: a proposal with deep problems
The Kansas City Star
After the Newtown, Connecticut massacre, we’re all looking for solutions to gun violence, especially in schools. There have been suggestions in Missouri and elsewhere to allow teachers to carry concealed weapons and to train and arm teachers or perhaps the principal. These are ideas with deep flaws.
Let’s start with whether teachers or principals would be willing to carry firearms. My guess is that some would and many wouldn’t. Would schools districts be willing to require a teacher or principal to carry a weapon? I doubt it. Permitting teachers to carry concealed weapons likely would create huge financial liabilities for schools. Who would be liable if a teacher shot an irate but unarmed parent.
Allowing concealed carry or requiring teachers to carry firearms would necessitate intensive training for both practical and legal reasons. Police officers have intensive training in the technical aspects of firing a weapon, and they also have intense training in distinguishing shoot-don’t shoot scenarios. They also are required to have regular firing range practice and re-certification. Do we want teachers to maintain firearms proficiency more than we want them to learn new teaching skills? Is there time for both? Who pays for this training?
Police officers also receive training in techniques to prevent weapons being taken from them. This would not be a trivial matter in a high school where there often are troubled students who might impulsively try to grab a weapon. What would the teacher’s legal liability be if this happened and an accidental shooting occurred? What would the school district’s liability be, especially if a teacher’s safety training were deemed inadequate?
Then, of course, we return to the shoot-don’t shoot dilemma. Would high school teachers be authorized to use weapons if attacked by a student? Would they be authorized to use weapons to break up fights between students? Teachers intervening in student fights, as they often do, would be at high risk of having their weapon taken from them and used against them or against other students.
But elementary schools pose even more difficulties. Would teachers be permitted or required to carry their weapons on their person? Weapons are easy to conceal under coats, but it’s more difficult to conceal a weapon under normal clothing. What psychological effect would seeing a teacher with a gun have on young minds? Would a teacher feel comfortable getting down on the floor with kids to do projects while carrying a gun?
If teachers didn’t carry their weapons, they would need to keep them in a locked cabinet, otherwise curious children would want to play with the toy. We all know what could happen here because this is what happens regularly in homes when small children play with their parents’ unsecured guns. This is tragedy waiting to happen.
And if the gun is in a locked cabinet, how quickly could it be accessed in case an armed intruder entered. Would teachers need to unlock the gun cabinet and take the gun when going to lunch or to the playground in order to be ready for armed assailants?
Of course, schools are busy places, often with activities in the morning before classes start and in the afternoon and evening for extracurricular activities and sports. If only a few teachers were trained to be armed and ready, would these teachers be assigned to be at guard before and after normal school hours. What would be the cost of this? In these days of budget shortages, would another art or music program be eliminated to pay for the cost of firearms training and staffing? If only the principal or one other person were authorized to carry firearms, would that person be required to be present for all school activities, including before school, after school, evening and weekend activities?
Beyond all these concerns, the primary question is whether armed teachers could effectively stop an armed intruder. First, recognize that it is difficult to be accurate with a hand gun from long range. Second, an armed intruder with an automatic rifle or assault weapon can fire multiple rounds at long range. The intruder may also wear a bullet proof vest, so a teacher would need to make an accurate shot to the head to disable the assailant. The odds are not good that a minimally trained, very scared teacher could fire a hand gun at long range, at a moving target, at the target’s head, especially while the assailant is spewing multiple rounds from a high powered weapon. It would be like bringing a pea shooter to a bazooka fight.
Suppose that the intruder has entered the teacher’s classroom, and the gun fight is at close range. The teacher, in theory, would have a better chance at placing a bullet in the right spot, but the assailant would likely easily overwhelm the classroom upon entry. Not a very encouraging prospect.
It is not likely that the prospect of an armed teacher would deter a person planning mass murder. And most such attacks are well planned. The opposite may actually be true. The assailant may relish the prospect of an armed conflict he knows he can win. In some cases, such as in Newton, assailants kill themselves but do so only after police arrive with firepower sufficient to overcome the killer.
The National Rifle Association has effectively preached the notion that more guns equals more safety, and some public officials seem to work from this assumption. On a Sunday news program, former education secretary Bill Bennett, for example, threw out the idea of arming teachers as a solution to school gun violence. I’ve heard the same from some of my professional colleagues. I think it’s a preposterous idea, presented without any real thought behind it except the NRA mantra.
Arming trained security guards in schools is a different issue. Well trained security guards with access not only to hand guns but to more powerful weapons could be effective. Early in my career, I was the training coordinator for the county jail and arranged training for corrections officers in everything from gun safety to riot control. Well trained people can effectively deal with dangerous people.
But schools are not jails, and we have to ask ourselves if we want schools to be armed encampments just so people can have the right to buy high powered weapons and multiple round clips whose only purpose is mass murder. It would not be easy to stop the flow of these weapons into the hands of disturbed people, but do you think the deaths of 20 innocent children and more brave teachers isn’t a reason to try?
We also have to ask if we can afford to have armed guards at every preschool, kindergarten, elementary, middle and high school, not to mention every college, technical school and vocational school. Each school would need several guards to be able to provide coverage for all school hours and activities. I did a quick look at the Kansas City Yellow Pages and saw 10 pages of single line listings for schools in our region. I didn’t bother to try to calculate how many school buildings would need coverage. It would cost a lot.
The president’s new task force on gun violence will certainly find that there are no easy solutions and no solutions that everyone will accept. The number of people killed by mass murderers is tiny compared to the deaths of people one at a time by hand guns. I hope the task force has some recommendations for all these problems.
But to the point at hand, for a lot of reasons, arming teachers and principals to protect schools seems to me to be a thoroughly unacceptable proposal.