Published in The Bells newspaper on April 25, 2018
On May 6, 1940, 38-year-old Verlin H. Spencer shot and killed five of his co-workers and wounded two others at South Pasadena Junior High School in California (Latimes.com). On Feb. 2, 1960, 44-year-old school Principal Leonard Redden killed two staff members inside their classrooms at William Reed School, Utah (Park City Daily News). On July 12, 1976, 37-year-old custodian Edward Charles Allaway killed seven people and wounded two others at the California State University Fullerton library (Latimes.com). All shootings listed above were committed by trusted staff of the schools they attended. It appears that putting more guns in schools could actually make gun violence worse.
After the shooting in Parkland, Florida earlier this year, multiple politicians proposed a bill that would allow teachers to legally carry guns on school grounds. On March 11, The White House vowed to help provide “rigorous firearms training” to some schoolteachers and formally endorsed a bill to tighten the federal background checks system (Washington Post). Later that day, President Donald Trump tweeted, “Almost all school shootings are in gun free zones. Cowards will only go where there is no deterrent!”
The fact that we are having to use teachers as the first line of defense in a shooting is astonishing, especially when you factor the many things that can go wrong when there are more guns being circulated. These guns can be mishandled, accidentally discharged, taken by students, or even shot with the intent to kill.
The thing about arming teachers with guns is that they can be dangerous too, either intentionally or unintentionally. One example would be 53-year-old Randal Davidson, a social studies teacher who reportedly barricaded himself in his classroom and shot a single bullet out of his window at Dalton High School in northwest Georgia on Feb. 28, 2018 (cnn.com). No one was injured, but the case baffled students, faculty, and police officers alike. Davidson had been a teacher at Dalton since 2004 and was well-liked by the student body. Sometimes such unexpected events can occur even after planned prevention. Teachers and faculty members might go through all the background and mental checks available, but there is no way to be totally prepared. We will never know for sure what is going on inside another person’s head.
“My favorite teacher at Dalton high school just blockaded his door and proceeded to shoot,” a 16-year-old student named Chondi Chastain tweeted at the National Rifle Assn., earning more than 17,000 retweets. “We had to run out the back of the school in the rain. Students were being trampled and screaming. I dare you to tell me arming teachers will make us safe.”
Additionally, teachers are human, and when you are human, mistakes happen. Staff members and police with guns in schools sometimes fire them accidentally more often than one might imagine. So far in 2018, at least one person has been killed and eight injured in school shootings that were deemed accidents. In the month of March alone, there have been three times when a gun owned by an adult was discharged in school (vox.com). One of the instances was when a sheriff’s deputy in Florida shot himself while responding to a false alarm about school gunfire. The other was when a third-grader in Minnesota accidentally fired a school police officer’s gun, which was holstered to his hip (vox.com).
A teacher, who is also a reserve police officer trained to use a gun, accidentally discharged a firearm at Seaside High School in Monterey County, California. The gun was directed at the ceiling and the shot injured three students, one of which was a 17-year-old student who was hit in the neck by fragments of the bullet (washingtonpost.com).
The ironic thing is that this man was trained to handle guns and was trying to teach his students about gun safety when it discharged.
Granted, there are schools who already arm specific faculty members in some states, including Texas, Ohio, and South Dakota (CNN). At least 10 states allow staff members to possess or have access to a firearm on school grounds, according to an analysis by the Education Commission of the States. And local districts have varied their approach to arming educators — in Ohio, guns are kept in safes; in Texas, they can be worn in holsters or kept in safes within immediate reach (NYTimes.com). While these programs have been implemented successfully, there is no data to show that it has deterred shooters or that the teachers would be able to successfully stop them.
One resolution to this problem would be implementing stricter gun laws and security services. There are many Americans who agree with that statement. Politico.com took a poll in the month between the mass shootings in Las Vegas on Oct. 1 and in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Nov. 5.
In that poll, they found that 51 percent of Americans were in favor of the increased gun legislation. Referring to the different parties, 81 percent of Democrats favored calls for new legislation while 73 percent of Republicans preferred to impose existing laws more strictly (politico.com). School shootings are preventable and we can start by reevaluating current gun laws, training, and systems, rather than building an army of teachers.
“We appreciate that there are teachers that are willing to take this extra step. It comes from a good place,” said Melissa Cropper, the president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers. “But when you start thinking about all that could go wrong in that situation, there are too many risks involved” (nytimes.com)
This issue cannot be solved by adding more guns. Though it is an interesting idea, arming teachers and other staff members could potentially do more harm than good for the public school system. You just have to ask yourself if it is really worth it.