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article imageOp-Ed: Arming teachers, a law enforcement and educators' perspective Special

By Greta McClain     Jan 19, 2013 in Politics
Shortly after the Sandy Hook School shooting, some gun advocates suggested having teachers carry guns in the classroom, a prospect some educational organizations, teachers and law enforcement officers don't support.
In December, Digital Journal reported that National Rifle Association (NRA) president, Wayne LaPierre, stated "the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun." Steve Dulan, board member of the Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners, said that arming school teachers may have prevented or at least lessened the number of fatalities at Sandy Hook.
In a joint statement issued December 20th of last year, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, responded to the idea of arming teachers, saying:
“Guns have no place in our schools. Period. We must do everything we can to reduce the possibility of any gunfire in schools, and concentrate on ways to keep all guns off school property and ensure the safety of children and school employees."
As the debate on how to best protect our school children and prevent mass shootings involving assault style weapons and high capacity magazines continues, new ideas are batted around. Many local governments have added School Resource Officers (SRO's) to every school. Some school systems are adding more high tech security systems and automatic door locks to school buildings. There are teachers who have chosen to take self defense and gun safety courses. Some politicians are advocating for stricter gun regulations, while others are calling for less regulations.
While the ideas are debated, many of the school children in the United States remain vulnerable, which have some continuing to insist that having school teachers also act as armed guards within the schools is the best solution. Digital Journal spoke with three teachers, one high school, one middle school special education and one former elementary school teacher who is now a school administrator. I also spoke with one former SRO with the Metro Nashville Police Department and asked each of them for their opinion on arming teachers. Most requested that they remain anonymous or not have their full name used for fear of repercussions by supervisors for voicing their opinions to the press.
I spoke with Sherri, a special education teacher, and asked her if she believed teachers should be allowed to carry guns in the classroom. She was against the idea, saying she did not believe teachers would receive enough training to properly react to a dynamic shooting situation. She also pointed out that if students knew teachers had guns, it could actually make teachers a target, saying:
"It would give some students a target. There is a certain segment of students that don't respect a teacher's authority as it is, challenging the teacher any way they can. If they know a teacher has a gun, there are some students that would take that as a challenge, making them want to try and attack and disarm the teacher. Not necessarily to shoot anyone, but just as a way to prove how "tough" they are."
Sherri also pointed to the fact that some special needs children don't really understand the dangers of a gun. If a teacher was carrying a gun on them and was having to restrain an unruly child, it could place the teacher, the unruly student and other students in danger. If the gun was locked in the teacher's desk, the gun would be basically worthless in the event someone came into the classroom and began shooting.
Adam, a high school teacher, agreed with Sherri's assessment that guns in the classroom would make teachers a target. He believes there is a strong possibility that trying to disarm a teacher, or stealing a teacher's gun, could become a new form of gang initiation. He went on to say:
"If we have the guns locked up in the desk, it honestly does not take a whole lot of effort to break into the desk. If it is locked in a safe within the desk, a student could still steal the safe. Plus if a teacher has to unlock the desk drawer and then unlock the safe in order to get to the gun, it is too late for them to do anything anyway.
If you carry the gun in a holster and you try to break up a fight, whose's to say one of the students can't get the gun away from you. The kids are already fighting, you don't want to add a weapon to the mix."
Adam also said that he does not feel he would be properly trained to deal with a situation similar to that which occurred at Sandy Hook or Columbine. He is a gun owner, has taken a gun safety course and enjoys going to the gun range, but he feels there is a big difference between defending himself, his wife and daughter, and dealing the panicked students and staff running and trying to take cover. He told Digital Journal:
"If I end up missing and hitting another student, or if a student runs in front of me as I am firing, I would feel horrible. They won't give teachers the same training they give police officers and I don't feel any teacher could properly react in a safe manner in that type of situation. Even trained police officers and members of the military shoot the wrong person sometimes. Do you really want to give teachers guns and tell them to defend a school full of kids when they have had at most a 16 hour handgun class?"
Pat, a school administrator who taught elementary school for many years, was the most vocal about the idea of arming teachers. She stated she has no problem with guns. Her husband and son are avid hunters and she has no issue eating the deer meat they bring into the house. She also states that she supports the second amendment and if forced, would have no problem shooting someone if she needed to protect herself or her family. She went on to tell Digital Journal:
"As a veteran educator I am appalled that the first response to this horrific shooting has been an immediate escalation of actions that support violence. This school was secure and prepared (which I strongly advocate as a common sense practice) but unless the principal or a teacher had been prepared to meet the shooter at the door and blow him away (stop and really imagine that!) it most likely would not have mattered. I also don't think armed security would necessarily make the difference.
Teachers are just people.... good, bad and ugly! But for the most part of they are noble people called to serve and really see themselves as making a very important difference everyday in the lives of children. Both mentally and logistically it is expecting far to much to consider arming these folks.
So we arm teachers anyway... then think practicalities for a moment. Where does the gun stay? Locked away and inaccessible? In what? I didn't even have a desk that locked and I had to hide the contraband paring knife I kept for carving pumpkins! You don't think children ( or worse their parents) might try to get these guns? How about the irate student that makes the idle threat to kill another child and is expelled even though he was just spouting off and doesn't have a gun. What if he knew where one was? Or should the teacher wear it in a holster?
There isn't enough training or safety in the world that is going to make up for what we will lose in our schools when guns are suddenly a normal thing."
The former SRO I spoke to agreed with the teachers. He pointed out that law enforcement officers in Nashville go through a minimum of 80 hours of gun range training in the police academy. Each year officers have to go through a minimum of 8 hours of additional gun range trained during in-service. He told Digital Journal:
"Despite the number of hours on the range, plus the hours in the gym doing dynamic shooting drills with paint guns, and the hours in front of a FATS system practicing shoot/don't shoot scenarios, officers still shoot miss or shoot when they shouldn't. We cannot expect teachers to be full time educators and full time police officers at the same time, and that is what we would be asking them to do if we wanted to arm them and have the ability to read and react to a situation properly.
Anyone can say 'oh if it were me I would have done this or that', but until you are in that situation you don't know. We can all play arm chair quarterback after an incident has happened, but making that split second decision, knowing that it is actually better not to shoot sometimes, that takes exhaustive training. Are we really prepared to pay for and send our teachers off to a two or three week school to get that training? Are we willing to give them the type of training needed as a refresher every year? SWAT team members practice these scenarios constantly, and sometimes even they get it wrong. We can't ask our teachers to be all things to all people, it isn't humanly impossible."
As a former police officer, I agree with most everything that the teachers and former SRO said. In addition to the training hours required at the academy and in-service, I would go to the gun range at times and practice on my own. I had a program that allowed me to practice read and react scenarios at home. I would also use visualization techniques to prepare myself for various scenarios. Despite that effort, there were times when I would shoot the poor old lady holding the umbrella.
We are all human, we are not perfect and we will make mistakes. But, we can prepare and train ourselves the best way possible to limit those mistakes. Asking teachers to prepare the same way as police officer prepares is simply unreasonable. Saying that someone who has taken a state required 8 hour gun safety class is prepared to deal with a dynamic shooting incident is not only unreasonable, it is naive. Shooting at stationary targets that are not shooting back and shooting at someone who is moving are two very different things. Shooting at someone when you have innocent people scrambling for safety in front of you is also a very different scenario. Adding guns to the classroom is an invitation for more danger and tragedy, and our school children deserve much better.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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