President Donald Trump said last week that he would like to see “gun-adept” school teachers and other school personnel be armed to protect students from active shooters who enter schools. Trump tweeted Thursday that he wanted to “look at the possibility of giving concealed guns to gun adept teachers with military or special training experience — only the best. 20% of teachers, a lot, would now be able to immediately fire back if a savage sicko came to a school with bad intentions. Highly trained teachers would also serve as a deterrent to the cowards that do this. Far more assets at much less cost than guards. A ‘gun free’ school is a magnet for bad people. ATTACKS WOULD END!”
To be fair to President Trump, arming teachers isn’t the only prescription he’s offered in the wake of the fatal shooting of 14 students and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
He’s indicated that he wants Congress to pass some gun regulation. He said he wants to see bump stocks — devices that turn a legal semi-automatic weapon into a fully automatic killing machine — banned.
But it’s the National Rifle Association-backed plan of arming school personnel that has gotten the most attention, and no wonder.
It’s an absolutely terrible idea.
When the president talks about “hardening” our schools by turning them into concealed-carry sites, when he talks about giving teachers bonuses if they agree to carry weapons, he is painting a picture of an American school that appalls many parents, teachers and students.
We’re among the appalled.
We do not want our teachers, however gun-adept they are in their off time, to have to pull the trigger and kill a rogue and violent student. That is not a teacher’s role. Killing a shooter would change a teacher forever — and change how that teacher is perceived by his or her students.
LNP staff writer Alex Geli interviewed Ted Irwin, a retired staff sergeant in the U.S. Army who’s now a teacher in the Ephrata Area School District.
Irwin told LNP he is confident in his ability to take down an active school shooter. He experienced combat in Iraq and frequents a shooting range at least twice a month.
But even he has concerns about the notion of arming school personnel.
“I feel like, personally, the risk of collateral damage would outweigh the help,” Irwin, who’s been teaching for more than a decade, told LNP.
That potential collateral damage was outlined to LNP by Mary Kay Fair, who teaches eighth-grade reading at Manor Middle School and is president of the Penn Manor Education Association.
There is the possibility of kids getting a hold of a teacher’s weapon or, worse, getting shot by a teacher who missed the intended target, she said.
“I did not get into this profession to become an armed guard in the classroom,” Fair said. “I went into this because I love the students.”
Retired Hempfield School District Superintendent Brenda Smoker (previously Becker) called arming teachers “a potential disaster in the making.”
She’s exactly right. The questions abound.
Who would pay for the intensive training a teacher would need to have even a chance of being useful in a high-stakes, active-shooter situation? Who would pay for the lawsuits when the school employee’s response to such a situation fails? How would teachers, already drowning in paperwork and responsibilities not directly related to actual teaching, find the time for weapons training? How would public schools, already burdened by unfunded mandates from state and federal government, meet the costs?
And why are we even exploring this ridiculous idea?
Because, as Smoker told LNP, we’re heartsick and anxious about school shootings and we’re desperate for an easy solution, when no single solution exists. And because students, led by the survivors of the Parkland shooting, are clamoring for answers that we grown-ups have failed to provide to this point.
That said, these are questions we need to consider, because President Trump isn’t the only elected official to float the idea of arming teachers.
Republican state Sen. Scott Martin of Martic Township is co-sponsor of Pennsylvania Senate Bill 383, which would give school boards the option of giving trained school personnel — not just teachers — access to firearms.
If the legislation, which passed the state Senate by a vote of 28-22 and now sits in the House Education Committee, is passed, school personnel will need “extensive training,” and schools will have to establish standards to make sure firearms don’t wind up in the wrong hands, Martin told LNP.
Again, who’s going to pay for this? And why would we want a school coach or librarian or teacher to carry firearms? As we saw at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, even armed, trained sheriff’s deputies balked at the prospect of facing off against a school shooter wielding an AR-15 that enabled him to fire scores of bullets in just a few minutes.
We’re not defending those Broward County deputies here. They should have entered the school — that was their job. But it should not be the job of a school employee.
A school resource officer, yes (and, not incidentally, the Pennsylvania Association of School Resource Officers also believes protecting students should be left to law enforcement).
We’re not opposed to school resource officers being armed.
But not a school staff member whose primary job is to teach, coach, advise, nurture and, yes, care for his or her students.
The answer, we believe, is more complicated than that. Strengthen background checks for gun purchases, as the overwhelming majority of Americans — and Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey — want. Make it more difficult for a teenager to buy a military-style weapon like the AR-15, the weapon of choice for mass shooters because it’s so terrifyingly efficient.
But don’t turn our schools into armed fortresses guarded by teachers packing heat. Let them teach. And demand that state and federal lawmakers come up with better legislative solutions, instead of toeing the NRA line.
We ask lawmakers to show some extraordinary courage here. The teachers who put their bodies between active shooters and their students already have demonstrated courage enough.