After Thursday’s massacre at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, the 45th school shooting this year, Donald Trump told supporters in Franklin, Tenn. Saturday that more guns, not fewer, might have prevented the tragedy:
It was a gun-free zone.... I’ll tell you, if you had a couple of the teachers or someone with guns in that room, you would have been a hell of a lot better off ...
The presidential hopeful is hardly the first to suggest that "good" guns in schools are the answer to "bad" ones. Shortly after the deaths of 20 first-graders and six staff at a school Sandy Hook, Conn., devastated the nation in 2012, the National Rifle Association called for armed guards at all public schools.
“How have our nation’s priorities gotten so far out of order?” asked NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre, pointing out that banks, sports events, and power plants are typically protected by armed guards. Keeping schools gun-free “tell[s] every insane killer in America that schools are the safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk.”
Many Americans appear to agree with Mr. LaPierre’s conclusion that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” In a 2013 HuffPost survey, 38 percent favored letting teachers and school officials carry guns, while 40 percent opposed the idea.
Although gun control advocates had hoped Sandy Hook would prove a turning point, 28 states currently allow adults who own legal guns to bring them on school property. Increasingly, it seems, the those carrying guns are the teachers themselves.
The debate swirls around teachers and principals should, could, would, and won’t do. Yet their voices can seem drowned by the back-and-forth of politicians and pro- or anti-gun organizations. So what do teachers say?
“I think every teacher should carry,” Utah special education teacher Kasey Hansen told NBC. “We are the first line of defense.”
Hansen, who brings a handgun to school with her each day, lives in one of seven states where teachers who carry are not obliged to inform their principals, coworkers, or students’ families.
Gun-toting teachers may not be outliers. According to the Association of American Educators, a non-union professional organization, 61 percent of their members would support concealed carry for teachers who received specialized training. However, only 26 percent said they themselves would consider bringing a gun into school.
Yet another poll from the National Education Association, the country’s largest teacher union, finds starkly different results. Just 22 percent agreed that teachers who received firearms training should be able to bring guns to school, while 68 percent opposed, with 61 percent saying they “strongly oppose” the idea.
Several educators have penned columns and op-eds voicing their concerns that, no matter how effectively classroom guns might prevent a tragedy – itself a debated idea – the risks outweigh the benefits. “My guns stay at home,” concludes hunter, gun-owner, and New York principal Russ Moore.
Others are even blunter. “As a child psychologist, I find myself thinking, do these people know children?” Ken Corbett asked in a piece for Slate. “Kids get their hands on most everything.”
Others point out that, despite the horror of school violence, schools actually remain one of the safest places for children. “Children spend more than a third of their waking hours on campus, but less than 2 percent of youth homicides occur at school,” educational experts Deborah Gorman-Smith and Michele McLaughlin point out in Time.
How best to prevent the shootings that do occur? Guns may or may not have a role, but perhaps educators can agree on a second option: prevention. While the NEA supports gun control measures, it recommends that such policies be accompanied by anti-bullying and mental-health services.