Arming teachers: Pros and Cons
President Trump’s proposal to arm teachers in response to school shootings has touched off a national debate over whether it was feasible or safe to expect teachers and school staff to act as a deterrent or a first line of defense in the event of an active shooter.
After a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Fla. killed 17 people on Valentine’s Day, Trump proposed arming “well trained, gun adept” teachers who had special training or military experience — he said his goal was 20 percent or more — and giving them bonuses for carrying guns. A CBS News poll showed 44 percent of respondents favored allowing more teachers and school officials to carry guns and 50 percent opposed, though Republicans were more strongly for it and Democrats against it.
Politicians and groups for and against guns quickly took sides on the proposal after Trump sent out a series of tweets adding some detail Thursday morning:
• Having more people armed would deter shooters looking for an easy target: National Rifle Association head Wayne LaPierre argued this Thursday in a speech to the Conservative Political Action Committee, and Trump echoed his words closely at a discussion in the White House later that day.
“Our banks, our airports, our NBA games, our NFL games, our office buildings, our movie stars, our politicians — they’re all more protected than our children at school,” LaPierre said. “We surround and protect so much with armed security, while we drop our kids off at schools that are so-called ‘gun-free zones.'”
‘Our banks, our airports, our NBA games, our NFL games, our office buildings, our movie stars, our politicians, they're all more protected than our children at school…Evil walks among us & God help us if we don't harden our schools & protect our kids’ -Wayne LaPierre #NRA #CPAC pic.twitter.com/TaIWqfjy2s
— NRATV (@NRATV) February 22, 2018
Pres. Trump on his position to arm teachers to protect schools, asking to 'harden' schools: ‘If you're going to continue with this nonsense about a gun free zone… it is such a target for the killer.’ https://t.co/nQMK1KA7Vr pic.twitter.com/fnWLlOSzpv
— ABC News (@ABC) February 22, 2018
• Armed staff on-site could respond to a shooter before police: In rural school districts or districts without dedicated school resource officers, police and medics could be responding from a distance, said Pennsylvania State Sen. Don White, R-Indiana County, who proposed a bill that would let school districts and teachers volunteer to be armed. In communities without local police departments, state police could be their only protection and could take five minutes, 10 minutes or longer to respond to a rural school, White said. A Broward County deputy was on-scene at the South Florida high school during the shooting but never went into the building or confronted the shooter, officials said.
I understand why people don't like the armed teachers idea. But if I'm a teacher and I have reason to believe the cops won't intervene in a school shooting, I might want to be armed.
— Jonah Goldberg (@JonahNRO) February 22, 2018
• Districts and teachers could have more control and flexibility over their security: Trump indicated he didn’t think hiring armed, dedicated guards or police was inefficient and proposed using federal money to train teachers to handle guns.
Mark Zilinskas, an Indiana Area High School teacher who attended firearms training sessions in Ohio, where armed teachers are allowed, derided the current training that emphasizes locking down, hiding, escaping and using improvised weapons to distract or delay a shooter. The Ohio course, he said, required participating teachers to get better scores on a firing range than police officers.
“I’m not just going to sit and hide and accept waiting, and seeing kids get shot or listening to kids die,” said Zilinskas, who worked with White on his bill.
• Teachers want to focus on teaching: “Teachers don’t want to be armed, we want to teach. We don’t want to be, and would never have the expertise to be, sharp shooters; no amount of training can prepare an armed teacher to go up against an AR-15,” Randi Weingarten, president of the National Federation of Teachers, said in a statement responding to Trump’s proposal. “When you have seconds to act when you hear the code for an active shooter, is a teacher supposed to use those seconds getting her gun instead of getting her students to safety?”
Even for those who would volunteer to carry guns, training and qualifying to be the kind of “experts” Trump wanted to make split-second decisions would take time and effort outside the classroom, and “checking and monitoring and retraining” would be a burden on districts, Avery Gardiner, co-president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, told NBC News .
• The guns teachers carry could be taken and turned against them, or used on the wrong people: Having guns in schools or classrooms could lead to them ending up in the wrong hands, said a representative of CeaseFire PA, a gun-control group.
“Almost any two students could figure out a way to get a gun away from a teacher; one distracts them and the other sneaks or wrestles the gun off of them,” said Robert Conroy, organizing director. The current proposal to arm teachers in Pennsylvania included no restrictions on how guns were to be stored on-campus, whether teachers would keep them holstered, in their desks or in gun safes, he said.
As a teacher, I'd often get annoyed when I would catch students looking through my desk for mints.Replace ‘mints’ with ‘guns’, and *there you have it*.
— Maree Jones (@mareejones) February 22, 2018
• Armed teachers could make things harder for first responders: Another argument questioned whether police responding to a school shooting could easily distinguish between gunfire from school shooters and armed staff shooting back, and whether the staff shooting back would be proficient enough not to injure bystanders or first responders.
Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association for School Resource Officers, warned that law enforcement officers might mistake an armed teacher, or anyone else not in uniform, for an adult assailant.
“Discharging a firearm in a crowded school is an extremely risky action, with consequences that can include the wounding and/or death of innocent victims,” Canady said in a statement . “Law enforcement officers receive training and practice in evaluating quickly the risks of firing. They hold their fire when the risks to others are too high.”
Matthew Santoni is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724 836 6660, [email protected] or on Twitter @msantoni.