Since the atrocity at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, President Trump has been promoting the idea that arming instructors, or at least some of them, would have prevented the carnage. The National Rifle Association’s Wayne LaPierre has weighed in predictably with the tired slogan he created following the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” States like Florida are considering adopting some version of this approach in lieu of significant changes in firearm policy.
The recitation of LaPierre’s slogan in the aftermath of these slaughters of our young is, in my view, cynical, offensive, and unsupported by empirical evidence. It is also as illogical to suggest that increasing the volume of guns will reduce gun violence as it is to make opiates more accessible as a way of addressing the opioid crisis. The solution of arming teachers is also highly cynical as this measure often depicts teachers as the last line of defense preventing our schools from descending into complete chaos. Arming teachers or school staff does nothing to address the reasons why so many young men in America, relative to other countries, wish to murder as many of their peers as possible and nor does this proposal address the accessibility of weapons that enable these massacres.
Surveys show that neither teachers nor the public like the idea. Like their college and university counterparts, most educators are not interested in doubling as security guards and students would feel less safe with schools awash in guns. Teachers worry about undermining their special role as educators and mentors, which consists of a different skill set from that of security staff. School teachers are usually women and women tend to have low gun ownership levels. Schools would likely lose valuable talent. Even if just some teachers were armed, incentives would likely be required to recruit and retain teachers with armed training, creating a preference for those prepared to undergo the necessary training over talent in the classroom. In addition, scarce educational resources will be diverted from the classroom to firearms training.
The cost of training teachers and/or other school staff willing to serve as armed marshalls would be prohibitive and ongoing training and recertification would require time out of class, with its associated costs. Kansas gave school districts the prerogative of arming teachers and the state’s largest insurer of schools refused to cover schools with armed instructors, deeming the situation as unduly risky.
In general, across the US, the training required of those with permits to carry guns, in states where a permit is required, is woefully inadequate. Rigorous training ought to include instruction in the law pertaining to the use of force, gun safety and handling, judgment (when to shoot and not to shoot), awareness of the possibility of friendly fire incidents, and marksmanship under stress. Even trained police officers miss their targets about 80% of the time in combat situations. Deployment of a gun in a crowded school being attacked by a shooter requires exceptional skill, judgment, and composure.
While there are far too many school shootings in the US relative to other countries, there are about 60 per year in about 150,000 public and private schools or 1 in every 3000 schools. Just as in the case of firearms kept in the home, arming teachers in every school may well result in many more unforeseen misuses of firearms, including unauthorized uses of force, accidental shootings and discharges, and thefts of guns. Teachers may over-react in dealing with unruly students and use deadly force to control them, a departure from the intent of arming them. Issues relating to the disproportionate use of firearms against minority students may arise, as it is an issue with full-time, professionally trained law enforcement officers.
Also, arming at least some teachers will create a new market for the gun industry, one reason the gun lobby supports this initiative. The industry is currently experiencing a major downturn in sales. In addition to helping deal with slumping sales in the industry, the entire idea is not just dangerous and harmful to the mission of schools but a huge distraction from what we ought to focus on: The community and societal issues that produce school shooters and the weapons that enable them.
Thomas Gabor, Ph.D. is a criminologist, sociologist and author of Confronting Gun Violence in America.