Op-Ed: The Debate on Arming Teachers

By Gloria C. Endres

One time I was visiting the classroom of a former student teacher in a school in North Philadelphia. Suddenly an announcement of a lockdown took place. She shut the classroom lights, locked the door and told her class to shelter near the clothes closet. No one panicked. We all just sat down on chairs or the floor away from the classroom door. I did not know what was going on, but remained calm and spoke quietly to the fourth-grade children. This must not have been their first lockdown, because they were very calm about the whole thing. (It reminded me of the days when I was a young teacher, and we put children in the hallways for an air raid drill.) Later we learned that a student had run away from the building and they were just making sure no one else followed him. Thank God no violence was involved, but no one knew anything until the all clear was given.

After the most recent massacre of children and adults in a public school in Florida, there has been a debate about the suggestion by the president and others that it would save lives if teachers, in addition to security guards, carry guns. By now, everyone has heard the news that the sheriff’s deputy, assigned to guard the Douglas School in Parkland, Fla., where the mass shooting took place, decided to remain outside and never intervened. He has since resigned in disgrace. Other deputies also showed up and did nothing. So now the suggestion is that members of the faculty should have been armed and able to stop the gunman. The reasoning is: If the professional can’t do it, let the teacher intervene.

We already know teachers are ready to lay down their lives for their students. Over and over, in cases of gunmen entering a school and murdering children, there are stories of heroic teachers shielding them with their own bodies. Some suggest those teachers would have been better off armed and able to stop the shooter in his tracks.

Where split-second decisions and actions must take place, the chance for error in a chaotic situation must be weighed against the so-called advantages. On the other side of the debate, the reasons not to arm teachers or other staff members are compelling.

Training is a problem. The length and type of training would depend on the temperament or how much expertise the teacher requires. That is one reason that some suggest hiring veterans or retired police to take the job of additional security. That brings with it the whole question of paying for the training or the participants. Or the guns themselves.

Another example: If a teacher is not scrupulous about concealing and guarding his weapon, and a disturbed student confiscates it, the result could be horrific.

There are also many cases where students assault teachers. It happens every day somewhere. Imagine such a scene escalating to the point where the teacher feels his life is threatened and reaches for his weapon.

Accidents with guns happen all the time. An accidental discharge of the teacher’s weapon could have terrible consequences.

One of the worst scenarios in any crowded environment is the possibility of crossfire. More than one staff member draws a weapon. The shooter has his own gun. Everyone starts firing at once. Even well trained law enforcement officers have succumbed to panic. The casualties mount.

Another worst case scenario is that police arrive upon a mass shooting and perceive an armed teacher as the aggressor. It is too late to apologize once “the good guy with a gun,” is dead.

The gun lobby has a vested interest in promoting more gun purchases. They have a friend in the White House who thinks that simple solutions to complex problems are possible.

There are, of course, solutions, but they can be complex and require strong reasoning and careful legislation. Guns do not have to be banned entirely, but military-style semi-automatic and automatic weapons should be banned. Devices that increase the speed and power of weapons should also be illegal. Also ban high-capacity magazines that only make mass killing easier. Age limits to owning a weapon must be enforced. Likewise background checks should prevent the mentally ill or those with police records to buy guns. There must be strict regulation of gun shows. Law enforcement can also help by buying back illegal guns, as they did in Australia. These are just some ideas states can adopt.

Finally, we must not be in a contest to be the most armed and dangerous developed nation on earth.