In the aftermath of the Valentine’s Day mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, per usual, differing reactions from Democrats and Republicans characterized the ensuing political discourse about the uniquely American scourge of gun violence. While various Democrats called for a new ban on assault weapons (in the mold of the 1994 ban authored by Senator Dianne Feinstein and President Bill Clinton) and an end to the so-called gun show loophole that exempts private gun purchases from background checks, one solution proposed by some Republicans, including President Trump, has been arming teachers.
Specifically, the Florida state legislature passed a measure to allow some teachers to arm themselves in a bill that also raised age limit to purchase a firearm and places a three-day waiting period on most gun purchases. The White House has called for rigorous firearms training for teachers and bonuses for instructors who carry guns. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who has called for guns in schools since her confirmation hearing, echoed the sentiment. Senator Doug Jones, however, called the proposal to arm teachers “the dumbest idea [he had] ever heard” and “crazy.” Based on all of the data and conjecture currently available, Senator Jones was absolutely correct.
The critical assumptions underlying the argument to arm America’s educators are that a so-called good guy with a gun is the only way to stop a so-called bad guy with a gun and that with training, states and schools can build a force capable of stopping a school shooting. Florida is betting $67 million on this strategy.
In theory, the idea of a trained teacher standing up to a shooter and repelling the threat to save our posterity is an idea that appeals to our frontiersman heritage and our basic duty to keep our children safe. I can comprehend that idea. As a lifelong Midwesterner and relative of many a gun owner, I can understand why it speaks to some of Heartland America.
The problem is, very few people in Heartland America have spent as much time in classrooms as I have. As a son of two educators, a grandson of another, and a close friend of many more, I have yet to find a single teacher who actually endorses the idea. They tell me that they signed up to be teachers, not security guards, that our children should only be made uncomfortable by the ear-piercing wail of the fire alarm, not the flesh-piercing, indiscriminate shrapnel of a firefight. They preach that rather than spending $67 million on arming and training teachers, it would be a wiser investment to spend those $67 million on books, not bullets. They question why, when states like Indiana have massive teacher shortages and states like West Virginia and Oklahoma face teacher strikes, their state legislatures would not use those funds to pay their teachers. Furthermore, according to a recent Public Policy Polling poll, just 35 percent of Americans support arming teachers, whereas 53 percent disapprove.
This begs the question: who really is driving the “Schoolhouse Glock” movement? Who is getting the attention of state legislatures? While there are certainly people who sincerely (albeit without statistical basis, as I will not later) believe that more guns in schools will make them safer, the most integral force is the NRA.
NRA videos have long decried what they felt was inadequate coverage of law-abiding gun owners deterring mass shooters. They have spread this ideology like wildfire, putting the “good guy with a gun” on a pedestal and worshipping at its feet, while Republican lawmakers have done the same at the feet of the NRA. Yet despite the propaganda of Wayne Lapierre and Dana Loesch (vile as it is, all but openly calling for armed revolt against liberals, journalists, universities, and anyone else who refuses to conform to their worldview), the “good guy with a gun” is no more real than Hogwarts.
Because of the lack of government-funded research on gun violence due to the Dickey Amendment, there is relatively little data on the potential impacts of federal gun control legislation. However, state data on the link between violent crime rates and concealed carry laws should concern advocates of arming teachers. According to a recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, in the states that have right to carry (RTC) laws, violent crime rates increased by an average of 13 to 15 percent within a decade of those laws being enacted. While there is certainly anecdotal evidence to support the theory of the “good guy,” (Sutherland Springs comes to mind), that evidence is few and far between. Just how few and far between? According to FBI data from 2014, just five of the 160 mass shootings that took place between 2000 and 2013 were suppressed by an armed civilian. That statistic even includes instances where the mass shooter committed suicide during a firefight. At the same time, unarmed civilians restrained shooters in 21 of the 160 mass shootings, ending the carnage.
Besides, even at Sutherland Springs, the shooter murdered 26 people before he was eventually taken out. It makes no sense at all whatsoever that the best-case scenario of a mass shooting should have to be 26 people dying. It is simply not a smart trade-off to refuse to do anything to save those 26 lives just to preserve the one-in-a-hundred chance that there will be a “good guy with a gun.”
The same study also argues that the presence of a gun turns potential “good guys” into villains, specifically citing George Zimmerman’s shooting of Trayvon Martin. Without the presence of a gun in the situation, Trayvon Martin would almost certainly be alive today. That is especially important to consider given that arming teachers would mean putting guns in the hands of underpaid, overstressed human beings prone to accident and their own implicit biases. Thus, it is not at all difficult to imagine a scenario where a teacher would either accidentally or intentionally (out of frustration or in cold blood) turn the gun on a student. No child should have to live in fear of being killed by the one person tasked with educating them and helping them grow as young people. Yet arming teachers makes that a very real possibility.
The second assumption, that the government could somehow train teachers to become serviceable deterrents to mass shooters, is also flawed. Even if every teacher could be trained to be as accurate of a sharpshooter as a member of the New York Police Department, they would still only hit their target in a firefight a paltry 18 percent of the time. Obviously, math teachers are not police officers. They do not have the time or the capacity to devote their lives to becoming sharpshooters because instead they so nobly devote them to serving their communities and teaching our children.
Parkland High School had armed security guards. Virginia Tech University had its own police force. Fort Hood and the Naval Yard were both military facilities. Ronald Reagan was armed with the best-trained armed guards in the history of the world. Yet in every case, these communities and individuals bore witness to the uniquely American scourge of gun violence. Even without consideration of common sense, this anecdotal evidence refutes the White House’s ridiculous assertion that a physics teacher with a gun will somehow be more effective at stopping mass shootings than the Secret Service or members of the military.
To an organization that predicates its actions and campaigns on facts, not fearmongering, this overwhelming evidence would be an indicator that more fear and terror than protection would likely come from arming teachers. But the NRA does not like these facts. Come to think of it, the NRA dislikes any sort of facts. This continuing trend of denial and threatening when confronted with the truth is the sort of response that is most emblematic of the NRA’s transformation from a reputable organization once devoted to gun safety and gun rights to a Medusa of a propaganda machine that turns every single Republican politician to stone whenever public opinion shows increasing support for common sense 21st century gun control measures to edit a law written about 18th century firearms. The organization likes to make itself out to be the nation’s most fervent supporter of gun rights, but that train has long since left the station. The NRA’s support for arming teachers is merely yet the latest installment in Wayne Lapierre pushing his agenda, and that agenda has everything to do with gun sales and not a thing to do with gun rights. Their conclusion that America cannot ever compromise on guns because any and all gun control laws are a plot to take every single gun in America coupled with their only solution being that we need to arm teachers puts American students at great risk, perhaps even greater than before.
The victims of these senseless tragedies are ordinary children with extraordinary potential. They pitch in our little leagues, they start lemonade stands, they go to prom, and they get summer jobs lifeguarding. They take the ACT, they sign their friends’ yearbooks, and some of them idolize their favorite athletes, like Jack Pinto, age six, who loved Victor Cruz so much that he was buried in his jersey when was killed at Sandy Hook. They listen to hip-hop and exude optimism like Joaquin Oliver (17, Parkland). And the youngest ones never stop asking “Why?” Today, tomorrow, until the very day that American children never have to fear being killed in school, a nation asks “Why?”
Gun violence has taken innocent young lives from us in Newtown and Naptown, and may well strike Our Town next. Until that day, America has a solemn obligation not to turn its school zones into war zones, but rather to make sure that none of its civilians have access to AR-15s and weapons of war, that nobody on a terrorist watch list can purchase a firearm, and that all threats are weeded out by extensive universal background checks. Until legislation enters into force that gets to the root of the problem- guns themselves- America cannot adequately ensure its children’s safety in schools.
In the meantime, sure, arm teachers.
Arm them with books and pencils.
Arm them with new maps that do not have the Soviet Union on them.
Arm them with the answers to our children’s questions.
Arm them with the compassion and dedication that runs deep inside each and every one of them that empowers them to devote their lives to educating America’s youth from Compton to Columbia, SC.
But do not arm them with guns. Ever.
Photo credit Ted Eytan, Creative Commons