Recent mass shootings, most notably the devastating school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, have brought debates involving gun ownership and use to the fore. While some legislators are calling for stricter gun control laws, others are moving in the opposite direction by pushing legislation that would allow more guns into schools. Specifically, some Republican lawmakers are calling for provisions that would allow teachers and other school staff to anonymously carry concealed handguns at school.
In a survey conducted in January 2013 by the National Education Association of 800 of its members found that only 22 percent of teachers surveyed support a proposal to allow teacher and other school personnel to receive firearms training and carry firearms in schools. The survey also found that 68 percent of teachers surveyed oppose that proposal, with 61 percent who strongly oppose it. Additionally, a Public Policy Polling national poll found that only 27 percent of American support arming teachers. Common sense suggests, in concurrence with the opinion of teachers and Americans as a whole, that purposefully bringing guns into school is a bad idea. Some state legislators think otherwise. Oklahoma state Representative Mark McCullough (R-Sapula), said “It is incredibly irresponsible to leave our schools undefended” and called schools “soft targets” for gunmen. Some school districts in Texas now allow teachers to carry guns, and yesterday, February 19, 2013, similar legislation was formally proposed in the Arizona House. Additionally, lawmakers in Florida, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, and Tennessee also plan to introduce legislation to allow teachers to carry firearms in school buildings. Pro-gun groups in Texas, Ohio, and Utah are offering teachers free concealed handgun training in the hopes that these teachers will be able acquire handgun permits and arm their classroom. Provisions that legally allow firearms in the classroom stem from the idea that armed school personnel will both deter gunman from entering the school and be able to shoot the gunman and prevent a tragedy.
However the idea that a civilian, even with training, is likely to prevent a mass murder by shooting the gunman is fantasy rather than fact. In the 62 mass shootings in the past 30 years in the United States there is not one instance of an armed civilian successfully stopping the violence. Some apprehended the shooter after the fact, while other civilian attempts resulted in more bloodshed. Even if civilians did react effectively in the case of shooting, there is the practical issue of where a teacher could keep the firearm. Hidden and locked away where it cannot be quickly accessed in an emergency? In a holster on her hip, terrifying kids at storytime? In easy reach, where any student or school personnel could access it?
While school-shootings are highly publicized, and the tragedy of those events cannot be overstated, they are few and far between. These tragedies may never be completely avoidable, but accidents that arise from a teacher having a gun in the classroom, on the other hand, are entirely preventable. Conflicts arise regularly on a school’s campus, as they do in the course of everyday life, but the only difference between an argument and an argument where someone is armed is that one of those situations could turn fatal. Schools are supposed to be safe places for children, full of nurturing educators and copious safety regulations. Having teachers who are armed, unbeknownst to students and parents, undermines the critical function of schools as a safe space.
Proposals to arm teachers are attempts to skirt the real issues that need to be addressed. If we want to keep kids safe, more resources should be devoted to mental health issues and banning semi-automatic weapons than to arming school teachers and personnel.
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