I have been getting asked more and more whether or not I, as a teacher, would be willing to have a gun (either on me or locked in my classroom) in case of a shooting at school. But this has gone beyond people here and there asking what I think. Recently several politicians (you know who they are…right?) have publicly stated that arming teachers will put an end to the mass shootings that have been experienced by over 150,000 American students since Columbine in 1999. Yes, I specifically heard them say teachers. They are not talking about having police or armed guards in schools, that’s a different topic.
We are getting mixed signals. Teachers are told not to break up or get in the middle of a fist fight. “Call the administrator or school officer” we are told. And yet, it seems that many people outside of schools are saying that we should be breaking up school shootings. This would be significantly more dangerous. So which is it? Stay out of dangerous situations and wait for trained professionals or get yourself in there and risk getting injured (or worse…)?
So here is my response to whether or not teachers should be armed: NO. Here’s why.
1. There are plenty of teachers that have mental health issues. A lot of them. Some have full blown illnesses such as bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety disorders, etc. Others are just stressed to the max. Either way, as a group our mental well being isn’t the most stable. And that’s easily understandable given the difficult climate of education right now. We are not talking about issues that would stop us from being able to teach, but we also keep saying that guns shouldn’t be in the hands of people with mental issues. So if teachers with mental illness are not able to carry guns, will that affect their ability to get hired? What if all the teachers in the school have some kind of mental issue? Then that school just doesn’t get protected?
2. Where will the time to train and practice for these scenarios come from? I have heard the argument that “police don’t train that much either”, but I don’t think that’s any excuse. So let’s say that teachers have to do annual training. Assuming this country is not asking us to give up our precious, already limited time with our families and friends, this would have to be time we are currently devoting to teaching. Is that really the best use of our professional development time? What will we be giving up in order to make time for this? Will this mean we are less concerned about preparing our kids for post-secondary education or The Almighty Tests? I’m not a police officer. I’ve never even shot a gun. But I know there is a big difference between practice shooting at the range and training for an event like we are experiencing in American schools. This would not be a one time training and then hope your skills are sharp if/when you need them. So either we are asking teachers to give up more of their personal time, give up time in the classroom, or give up professional development time that would otherwise be used to make us better educators. If this country is truly concerned about our education system pumping out kids who are prepared for adulthood, I’m not sure which of those options is going to get us there.
*And please note here, I am not saying that teachers who want to carry their gun or have a gun locked away at school are in the wrong. I have talked with many teachers who have expressed they would be comfortable and willing to do it. They are typically teachers who already own guns and are comfortable using them. But I don’t think we can rely on that. Again, what if there’s a school where no one volunteers to be “that” teacher? Does that school just have to go without the same protective measures that others are getting? Will “are you comfortable being ‘that’ teacher?” be on applications now?
3.Teachers are biased. We have relationships with our students. It is one of the best, and yet most difficult, things about being a teacher. Often times, the shooters are current or former students of the school under attack. If a teacher has to put their head around a corner and decide whether or not to shoot the kid walking down the hall, that will be an incredibly difficult decision. What if it’s a kid who was in the bathroom when the lockdown started and now they are frantically jiggling door handles trying to find a room to hide in? What if they are actually the shooter? In the second or two it may take the teacher to decide whether or not to pull the trigger, it may be too late. Can you imagine the mental trauma a teacher will walk around with for the rest of their life if they shoot the wrong kid? Not to mention that the actual shooter is still active. Or what if the shooter is a student we had a bond with and we wait too long to make that decision? If teachers wanted to put themselves in a position of deciding whether or not to shoot people, we would have gone into some type of law enforcement. Assuming that because a teacher goes to the shooting range as a hobby or is a hunter they will be able to make these on the spot decisions is ignorant.
4. Public schools are government facilities and should be protected as other government facilities are. No one is asking lawyers or judges to carry guns in courthouses. Senators and their staff don’t protect the capitol building themselves. Why should teachers/principals/custodians have to? I have spent time at a government research facility. Just to get into the visitor center, we had to go through metal detectors, have our bags searched, have our IDs scanned, be on a guest list, and have a guest pass on us (all of which was after your car was searched at the parking lot gate). Now I’m not saying this is what needs to happen at every school around the country. But I am pointing out that there is a HUGE discrepancy in how we protect different facilities. There are certainly other steps we could take to protect schools instead of arming teachers. There is a reason that different careers have different job descriptions. No one person can do it all. We don’t ask police officers to offer counseling sessions to the people they arrest. We don’t ask judges to educate people about the harmful effects of drugs. We delegate these tasks and all work together. But for some reason, people think teachers can do it all.
5. To me, the biggest issue is that arming teachers or principals or custodians or any other human in a school, if it goes correctly and according to plan, will only protect schools. The deadliest mass shooting in modern US history was at a concert venue in Las Vegas. The shooter in this event killed 58 innocent people. Roughly a year prior to that, nearly 50 people were killed in a shooting at an Orlando nightclub. Another 20 people were killed at their Sunday morning church service in Sutherland Springs, TX. We can’t arm schools and just hope for the best everywhere else. It’s just not fair. Yes, schools are government facilities, and should be protected as such. But we should also be doing something to stop these shootings from happening no matter what the location. I’ve heard many people say that arming teachers isn’t just about stopping an in-progress shooting, but scaring shooters off in the first place. “These shooters are cowards and want an easy target.” But what about all the other “easy” targets? If given the chance, they will still cause harm somewhere else. They’re not just going to see teachers armed, hang up their gun and call it a day.
6. Last but not least, I would just like to point out that when someone outside of education tells teachers they need to be armed, it feels a lot like saying that teachers aren’t trying hard enough. And maybe this is just me being sensitive. But the fact that people think I, as a teacher, am the solution means that whatever I am doing right now isn’t good enough. People are suggesting that I’m not doing “everything I possibly can” to protect those students in my room. That honestly brings tears to my eyes. And that may not be what these people think they are suggesting. They may think it’s just that: “a suggestion”. But what it really says it that somehow, it has become the teachers’ responsibilities to take on this gigantic, societal problem. We often have to buy our own supplies, give up time with our families and friends to work on what we have to get done, stress over whether or not we are doing enough to help each and every kid (not just academically), and now we are also being asked to stop shootings. I have to admit I am more than a little hurt and insulted. When is someone else (or something else- looking at you government) going to step up and take this one off our plates? There are a LOT of other possible solutions to this mass shooting epidemic we are in the middle of. We have to look at the options and throw out the bad ones. Focus our time and energy on solutions that are logical, possible, and will address the problem as a whole; not just one piece of it. Arming teachers is an option. But it’s not a good one.
I do appreciate you hearing me out. If you haven’t done so already, register to vote and be in frequent contact with your legislators (at all levels) no matter what you think the solution is. They need to know what we think. Having arguments on social media or writing blog posts is a great way to put your ideas out there, but these ideas need to go to the people that can do something about it. At the end of the day, we are all in this crisis together and have to keep the discussion going to come up with a solution. Feel free to leave civilized comments, I would love to hear your perspective.
Thanks for stopping by.