Louder For The Folks In Back: Arming. Teachers. Does. NOT. Make. Students. Safer.

by Isla Harrington
Originally Published: 
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As a former high school English teacher who stood in front of hundreds of angsty teenagers for many years imploring them to actually care about Shakespeare and topic sentences and understand why plagiarists go to a special circle of hell, I have feelings about the mass shooting epidemic that is plaguing our nation’s schools. And among those feelings, I have big feelings about the idea of arming teachers.

Besides the fact that asking a teacher to carry an armed weapon is beyond anything we should ever ask our teachers to do, and besides the fact that armed officers go through extensive and rigorous training that prepare them for these life and death scenarios, so how in the hell can we adequately prepare our educators to handle all the unexpected possibilities of a mass shooting? Plus, stay cognizant of their weapon at all times?

And besides the fact that the majority of shooters are kids FROM THE SCHOOL who would likely know which teachers carry guns and which do not…

Besides all of these and a myriad of other reasons why arming America’s teachers is preposterous and frankly a stupidly dangerous idea, there’s another key factor here. It’s the elephant in the room that many don’t want to talk about, but we must. Look at the statistics in this country. Look at the evidence of racial tension. By and large, the racial group that is most often the victim of gun violence is the black community.

If you don’t want to believe that teenage students of color will be at a greater risk for harm than white teens once their teachers are armed, well, you’re living in a fantasy world.

If you want to believe that a panicked black student coming around the corner, running from a shooter, isn’t at a greater risk than a white kid doing the same as they both approach an equally terrified, confused teacher wielding a gun, you’re in denial.

The state of Florida recently passed a bill that allows teachers to arm themselves in school. Florida. A state known for its “stand your ground” law. The state where an unarmed black teen named Trayvon Martin was shot dead walking along the street because he apparently “posed a threat.” The state where his shooter was acquitted and walked free.

Democrat Representative Shevrin D. Jones sees why this is problematic for the young people of color in his state and proposed two amendments to this bill that could protect students with darker skin. One amendment would require teachers who arm themselves to take “implicit bias training” to address “stereotypes that could unconsciously affect spur-of-the-moment decisions.” The other would prohibit a teacher who “shoots a student by mistake in a situation with an active shooter on campus from claiming self-defense under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.”

“We are talking about black boys and girls who are getting murdered by police officers!” Rep. Jones shouted in an impassioned speech to his fellow members of Congress. “Some people might look at a boy who’s got dreads in his hair and be intimidated by him. I fight for those people!”

Ironically, most of the “mass shooters” throughout recent history are white. But still, men like George Zimmerman feared Trayvon Martin. Still, racial bias remains an issue whether we want to admit it or not. As reported by the Washington Post, “White teachers and school officers have cut off black students’ hair and been accused of cutting the hoods off their jackets, slapped them, berated them with the n-word, tackled and thrown them across the classroom and allegedly snatched them out of their seats violently for not standing for the Pledge of Allegiance. Some teachers have been fired for posting racist rants on social media.”

And now we’re going to let them have guns.

Unfortunately, both amendments Rep. Jones proposed failed to pass, and Florida’s “guardian program” moved forward, allowing teachers to have guns in school without additional racial bias training that could protect their innocent, unarmed students from undue harm. So, they are not safer in their school with armed teachers. In fact, it could be argued that they are likely less safe than before .

And, if a teacher in distress shoots the wrong person (possibly a child), whether due to a subconscious or conscious racial bias, or just sheer panic as gun shots ring out, they could be completely protected from prosecution under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law.

As a Vox article explains, “Black, Latino, and Native American students are all disciplined at disproportionate rates, adding that the suspension rate for Black and Latino students doubled between 1972 and 2010. Whether it’s zero tolerance policies or in-school police officers, the harshest discipline falls on black and brown students.”

Imagine how much “safer” students of color must feel going to school now, knowing that even their potentially racist teachers will have weapons.

Spoiler alert: THEY WON’T.

Instead of arming our overworked teachers who are unprepared and ill-equipped to handle active shooter situations while also adding to the number of loaded guns in a building that could cause further harm, Everytown for Gun Safety offers far better, more effective, safer options for how we can deal with this epidemic in America’s schools such as raising the minimum purchasing age to 21, enforcing Red Flag laws, and improving our system of background checks, among other ideas.

In the end, we all want our kids to be safe. More guns, however, does not equal safer schools. Especially if there are kids in those schools who aren’t white.

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