Arming Educators – A Bad Idea That Hasn’t Gone Away

A fourth grade teacher in Utah receives firearms training with a .357 magnum from a personal defense instructor.

A fourth grade teacher in Utah receives firearms training with a .357 magnum from a personal defense instructor.

“If only the teacher or principal had a gun…” In the one year-plus since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, staunch gun rights advocates have promoted this scenario to lobby feverishly for the training and arming of school faculty. While many districts have implemented constructive measures to improve school safety – sharpening emergency response procedures, a greater focus on bullying prevention and a renewed interest in mental health services – many lawmakers and school board members have banged the drum to bring even more guns into the schools.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, more than 30 states in 2013 considered proposals to provide training and firearms to school staff. In March, South Dakota became the first to actually pass a bill allowing educators to carry concealed weapons. Six other states – Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas – soon followed suit. Individual school districts have taken advantage of weak local gun laws and adopted their own policies to train and arm faculty.

Bill Bond, a school safety expert with the National Association of Secondary School Principals, disputes the premise that supplying educators with guns would help neutralize dangerous situations.

Bond speaks from experience. In December 1997, he was principal of Heath High School in Paducah, Kentucky when a student opened fire and killed three students and wounded five others.

“I’ve lived through this. Giving teachers and principals guns, training then as armed guards, is not how we should be focusing our resources to improve school safety,” Bond says.

The push to put guns in the hands of educators isn’t going to stop anytime soon, according to Bond.

“In many state legislatures and school boards, this is a very big deal. And it’s gaining a little momentum. Teachers and principals don’t want it, but that hasn’t stopped a lot of politicians.”

Last week, a Nebraska lawmaker re-introduced legislation that would permit staff to carry a concealed weapon in school. Bill 879, introduced by Sen. Mark Christensen, would apply to public and private schools, along with colleges and universities.

Educators are pushing back. Nancy Fulton, president of the Nebraska State Education Association, said categorically that there was “zero interest” on the part of teachers and education support professionals in her state to arm educators. The Colorado Education Association’s opposition helped scuttle similar legislation in 2013, although lawmakers have plans to reintroduce the bill in the wake of the recent shooting in Littleton.

“Guns have no place in our schools, period,” says National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel. “Lawmakers at every level of government should dismiss this dangerous idea and instead focus on measures that will create the safe and supportive learning environments our children deserve.”

A 2013 NEA national survey found that only 22 percent of its members favored proposals to allow teachers and other school employees to receive firearms training and allow them to carry guns in schools, while 68 percent were opposed.

Countless law enforcement and school safety experts believe schools that arm their staff are inviting an unacceptable level of risk. Guns could be secured by students, or a manageable situation could easily turn deadly, for example. Proponents argue that staff would undergo extensive training to avoid these kinds of incidents, but critics respond that educators aren’t in school to be armed guards and no amount of training is going to change that.

“Suggesting that by providing staff with 8, 16, 40, or even 60 hours of firearms training on firing, handling, and holstering a gun somehow makes a non-law enforcement officer suddenly qualified to provide public safety services is a high-risk to the safety of students, teachers, and other school staff,” said Ken Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services.

The potential for an accident or a misjudgment was an overriding concern at a recent hearing in northern Idaho where a local school board is considering a measure to arm school staff. Social Studies teacher Tyler Haynes told the board that one bad decision or impulse by a member of the staff could easily result in an unnecessary injury or death.

“That frightens me, and I would hate to see something that’s designed to make more people safe or secure turn into our first real tragic situation in our schools,” Haynes explained.

Bill Bond also urges elected officials to consider how arming educators could degrade a school’s learning environment.

“Teachers are in schools to teach. When you ask them to be security guards, you are distracting them from their jobs. Not one minute of the school day will go by when that teacher isn’t thinking about that weapon he or she is carrying,” says Bond. “And what kind of message are we sending the kids? Educators are often their ultimate role model.  Some students may think that carrying a weapon is the right thing to do.”

“We’re all looking for a solution to an horrendous problem and I’m afraid – especially with the issue of arming educators  – people just aren’t looking at all the ramifications.”

See also:

Is Mental Health the Next Focus of the School Safety Debate?

NEA’s School Safety Resources

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  • New Teacher

    “Lawmakers at every level of government should dismiss this dangerous idea and instead focus on measures that will create the safe and supportive learning environments our children deserve.” (National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel)

    So we should “create the safe and supportive learning environments our children deserve” without measures to ENSURE they will be protected from violence? How might this happen? Because in every case of mass violence, the derange respect “GUN FREE” signs? I’m embarrassed this level of competence takes dues out of my paychecks! (No doubt living better than I can dream.)

    As if the alternative–herding several hundred people in large buildings–does NOT invite violence for the mentally deranged? And what if they attain their weapons by unlawful means? How will laws help THEN? While the situation in the article is unfortunate, having armed faculty reduces the amount of time necessary to cry for the government to save you. Then again, independence is a foreign idea to those whom support compulsory schooling; for when education becomes a passive act where one must be taught, then thinking for yourself is surely discouraged. In this case, that means one’s natural right for protection. Hence, the Second Amendment.

    (Nevermind this article presumes the task of potentially defending one’s flock would completely overwhelm educators–as if it were the only thing they thought about. Of course this is not the case at all. Such thinking naturally occurs when necessary. But let’s not question premises: said terms are not Common Core standards.)

    However, citing our Nation’s core document probably makes me some sort of hate filled, homophobic, xenophobic, anti-gay, Bible-thumping, wife beater. Ad hominem attacks *do* tend to substitute critical thinking in organizations such as these, I’ve found. Now go ahead and collect my dues and delete my comment, NEA. You are quick to give criticism, but incapable of intellectually dismissing it.

    • Val E. Forge

      You ROCK New Teacher!

  • John Spencer

    I am a long-standing member of the NEA and president of our local OEA organization, but I haven’t always agreed with NEA policies. For several reasons, I strongly disagree with NEA’s stand against arming teachers. First, teachers are already trained professionals in the classrooms. To further train them to handle firearms would be no different from training police officers, officers of the sheriff’s department, or any other profession requiring firearm training. Teachers would be no more apt to having “guns . . . secured by students” or having “one bad decision or impulse” than the armed guards that are currently walking our campuses. Second, no reasonable person would say that all teachers should be required to carry firearms. Only teachers willing to undergo the required background checks (and certainly teachers should be able to qualify) and take the required training would be put in the position of protecting students. Third, security is expensive. Hiring armed guards instead of training teachers puts an unnecessary financial burden on already under-funded schools. Of course, teachers would be compensated for training, but it would be far less expensive than hiring outside security.

    I assigned an argumentative essay in my honors classes that used the writing prompt, “Should teachers be allowed to carry weapons in schools?” Many students expressed concerns that the teachers might “freak out” and start shooting students, or that a student might somehow get the teacher’s gun and start shooting other students. No student (or parent) has had these concerns about the armed guards who are walking the campus. I believe that NEA’s reaction to armed teachers is the same knee-jerk, illogical reaction that the children had. Apply all of the arguments that Bill Bond presents against arming teachers and apply them to members of law enforcement, and you will see just how illogical the arguments are.

    Finally, yes, I am licensed to carry a weapon, and I do carry much of the time I am not at school. I don’t spend every minute thinking about the weapon I am carrying, as Bond says teachers would do, nor have I (fortunately) had occasion to rely on my weapon. However, if I or my family is placed in a dangerous situation, I will certainly be glad I have the protection in addition to 911. Unfortunately, we live in an uncertain world and may have to deal with unstable people, so let’s look at the methods of dealing with these in a logical, mature manner.

    • Val E. Forge

      You ROCK John Spenser!

  • Bruce Spryer

    Teachers at NO time need to be armed! JS needs to disassociate from the NRA…

  • Lightengine

    Fear of the unknown naturally causes some reservation but couple this with an acute fear of firearms (hoplophobia) and the irrational logic that enabled Sandy Hook will prevail. Gun free school zones filter out and incapacitate those with good intentions but are incapable of stopping those with bad intentions. With over nine million concealed carry licenses in this country, about one in twenty five adults is now licensed to carry and this includes a whole lot of teachers and administrators. Small pocket holstered handguns with laser grips are virtually undetectable. Contrary to erroneous opinions, it would not be difficult to use a small easily concealable firearm with laser grips to blow the demented brains out of an Adam Lanza. With training in conflict resolution, defensive tactics, psychological aftermath preparation, situational awareness, down range awareness, targeting proficiency with a laser, and regular practice, selected and qualified teachers and administrators will provide an effective deterrence to prevent or terminate mass shootings in our schools.

  • Peter

    Teachers must not be security guards. But we must be nutritionists, therapists, promoters of sexual exploration, role models, leaders, educators, et al. Apparently THOSE jobs aren’t on our minds all day. Shortly after Sandy Hook, 2 students approached me at different times of the day asking if I’d carry a gun in school because it would make them feel safer. While at the same time my NEA comrades were scratching their heads wondering why the magical force field that must certainly envelope a “this is a gun-free zone” sign had failed to work.

  • Adam Morton

    I love how throughout the entire article not once did they offer any sort of evidence or reference where they were obtaining their information.

  • Adam Morton

    I am sorry they did cite their own poll conducted by them and of their members. That seems very biased if I could say so myself.

  • Never happen in my state

    Nebraska NEA says zero support among its members? Did it ask them all? Teachers shouldn’t be required to carry but if it fits their background, temperament and training, it should work.

  • Harlen Voechting

    this really sucks i’m trying to right an argumentative essay on why teachers should be armed but i can’t find any good evidence for the opposing view all the articles have no solid evidence

  • Mireya

    I created a petition that is against arming teachers. Please read and sign if you agree