Curbing gun violence after Newtown: Let's arm teachers
Critics worry that arming teachers will create 'fortress' schools and invite gun accidents. But a well-thought-out program can avoid these pitfalls, and take advantage of teachers and staff who are eager to act as trained protectors for our children.
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It's highly unlikely that students will be running every which way. They will be on the floor, under desks, and locked in classrooms. A trained, armed teacher will know to take cover, kneel, and aim with rising shots. The teacher will also know every inch of the building, having the advantage.Skip to next paragraph
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That's the basic scenario, but the devil is in the details.
One way to arm teachers is for them to carry a concealed pistol, like millions of licensed citizens do now. That cuts down on the “school fortress” perception. It is important, too, that the aggressor not know who is armed, in order to complicate his planning, hopefully to the point that he abandons his plan entirely.
Modern security holsters make it very hard to snatch a pistol, but for some teachers, keeping their weapon a secret while in close daily contact with students may be problematic. Certainly some teachers can carry discretely, but I feel it is important to include principals, maintenance people, secretaries, and administrators who are better able to maintain their personal space.
A very good option would be to keep some firearms in security cabinets that are accessible only to those who have completed proper training and have been given the key or combination. Since they are not being carried, an appropriate long gun should be stored instead of a pistol. This can prevent accidental shootings.
The next issue is how to find enough volunteers. In some areas, volunteers will be plentiful, as recent armed teacher classes in Utah and Texas attest. In places where guns are unfashionable, armed guards or resident police officers can do the job, albeit at a higher cost.
Among the possible sticking points will be deciding who screens and selects from the available volunteers. Workplace politics and personality conflicts common to school faculties would suggest that the decision should be made at the district or state level.
Volunteers should be willing to give up a week of their summer vacation for initial training and two weekends a year for refresher courses. The state should pay for training and supply approved firearms. Police agencies should offer their trainers and facilities, as some already have, but excellent civilian trainers are available if needed.
Obviously, the names of the armed staff members must not be made public, as this will negate some of their effectiveness. Only the general fact that a school is protected should be announced in order to benefit from the deterrent effect. Ironically, it may be that this effect is more important than any particular skills or training. As long as people believe that a school is protected, the exact methods may not matter at all.
This is definitely not a one size fits all situation. It is critical that school districts have as much flexibility as possible to chart their own way, based on their finances and the local culture.
Even if all obstacles are overcome and an armed school protection plan is put in place, it will be difficult to measure its effectiveness for the simple reason that serious school attacks don't happen very often. Gathering statistically significant conclusions may not be possible, because how can you identify when a perpetrator has been dissuaded from attacking a target? Like many elements of the great American gun debate, support for such a program will hinge on emotional and cultural factors in the community, rather than hard evidence.
Michael Brown is a member of Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership.