I was teaching high school when the Columbine High School shooting happened. Between periods, one of my students ran into my classroom and turned on the TV. As students trickled in, we all stared at the screen, dumbfounded. We watched aerial footage of kids pouring out of the school, some of them splattered with their classmates’ blood. We listened to news anchors struggling with the details about how many shooters there were, how many kids had been killed, whether the shooting spree was over or not.
I don’t remember what I told my students. We were all shocked and horrified, but that kind of massacre seemed so unlikely and uncommon that the dominant emotion wasn’t fear, but sadness.
We had no idea there would be so many more to come. We didn’t foresee regular lockdown drills or six-year-olds being mowed down by gunfire at school.
On Wednesday, I watched as families and educators who’ve been affected by school gun violence shared a “listening session” with President Trump. I heard their heart-wrenching stories. I listened when the president asked for people’s ideas for solutions. And I found myself staring dumbfounded at my screen once again as a couple of people—including our president—made the straight-faced suggestion that teachers be armed, concealed-carry style.
This is not the first time I’ve seen that suggestion made. It’s just the first time I’ve seen the person with the most power to effect policy make it.
People, please. A classroom full of children is no place for a loaded gun. Ever. Ever. Ever.
Teachers are not soldiers or police officers or SWAT sharpshooters, and we shouldn’t expect them to be. Even if some teachers want to carry the responsibility of being armed, there are multiple reasons why that is a bad, bad, bad idea.
A teacher’s job is to teach and mentor students. That’s where their primary focus should be. Police and military folks have to constantly be ready to act quickly and effectively against an assailant—that’s their job; it’s what they’re physically and mentally trained for. In no reasonable universe should “armed and trained to kill” be part of a schoolteacher’s job description.
Very few civilians have the mental and emotional wherewithal to make wise decisions and act with accuracy in a life-or-death situation with a gunman—especially when they are tasked with protecting a classroom full of children. Soldiers and police train extensively to handle active shooter situations, both tactically and mentally. And even at that, trained law enforcement only have an 18% accuracy rate in high-stress shootout situations.
Just take a moment to picture the actual scenario here. Someone opens fire in a school. The police are called. Law enforcement acts immediately. But they don’t have to engage immediately. Those seconds or minutes it takes to hop into a police car and drive to a scene give an officer time to mentally prepare.
Now imagine how quickly a teacher would have to switch gears if someone were to start shooting in their school without warning. The idea that any civilian, even if trained, would be able to accurately assess an active shooter situation and act safely and effectively to end it when, mere seconds before, they were just in the middle of a teaching a geometry lesson is next-level ridiculous.
Not to mention, what happens when law enforcement shows up just as an armed teacher is engaged in a shootout with an active shooter? Those first responders now have to figure out who is the good-guy-with-a-gun and who is the bad-guy-with-a-gun. It creates confusion and wastes precious time.
Some say that just knowing that some teachers are armed would be a deterrent. But these shooters are often on a suicide mission. They’re not trying to get out alive anyway. Having armed guards at Columbine didn’t deter that shooting, and neither did having an armed guard at the most recent shooting in Parkland, Florida.
And how about the safety issues with having a loaded gun in the classroom? I’m a 5’5” 125-pound woman. It would take about three seconds for most high schoolers to overpower me and take my weapon if I were carrying. Two or more students at once? I and my gun wouldn’t stand a chance.
I heard one suggestion in the listening session today that said nobody would have to know which teachers were carrying. Um, for one, kids aren’t stupid. And two, as a parent I would for damn sure want to know if my child is in a classroom with a loaded gun.
Also, I’ve seen teachers fly off the handle at students before. I’ve known teachers who had their buttons pushed or have anger issues and would not trust some of them to have a gun on their person or in their classroom. Is this the norm? Of course not. Most educators are able to maintain their composure under duress, but not all of them can, so it has to be a consideration during this discussion.
More guns in schools is not the answer. Arming teachers is not the answer. There are a lot of things we can do, from stricter firearm regulations to programs that stop angry, disenfranchised kids from slipping through the cracks. But keep the guns—ALL the guns—out of our classrooms, please.