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Democracy

Turning schools into fortresses and teachers into trained soldiers isn't the answer

school shootings, guns, teachers

Arming school personnel as a response to school shootings is a terrible idea.

Every time a school shooting happens, the idea of arming teachers and school administrators gets floated out by folks who believe the NRA mantra, "the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." That notion is so ingrained in parts of the American psyche that a common response to repeated mass shootings of schoolchildren in their classrooms is to add more guns to the equation.

I understand the argument being made. If someone already on the scene was armed and prepared to respond to an active shooter without having to wait for law enforcement, perhaps a maniacal killer could be stopped sooner. And if maniacal killers knew that teachers and administrators were likely to be armed, perhaps they wouldn't target schools as much. I get the seeming logic of the idea. I really do.

However, there are several fatal flaws with the argument, starting with the fact that the data simply does not back it up.


Armed guards aren't the help people think they are, so why would armed teachers be?

According to a study published in the journal JAMA Network Open in 2021, there were armed guards present at 23.5% of school shootings from 1980 to 2019. In their analysis, the study authors found that "armed guards were not associated with significant reduction in rates of injuries; in fact, controlling for the aforementioned factors of location and school characteristics, the rate of deaths was 2.83 times greater in schools with an armed guard present."

In other words, having armed guards standing at the ready doesn't actually help like people think it does. There was an armed guard who was a former police officer in the Buffalo shooting earlier this month—he was was able to get one shot off and then was killed by the gunman. According to Texas Public Radio, the Uvalde gunman was engaged by law enforcement before entering the school—that didn't stop him from killing 19 children and two teachers.

And we're talking about security guards and police officers, whose entire job is to look for and respond to danger. If their "good guy with a gun" presence doesn't help, why do we think putting guns in the hands of teachers would help?

I've been a teacher in a classroom. Teachers are already thinking about and juggling a dozen different things at any given moment. It's already insane that we expect teachers to drop what they're doing to run stressful, sometimes traumatizing active shooter drills. The idea of having to switch gears from dividing fractions or analyzing poetry to becoming a trained marksperson when you're also trying to wrangle a couple of dozen kids in a terrifying and chaotic situation is utter lunacy.

Even trained police officers only have an 18% accuracy rate in high-stress shootout situations. And they are constantly preparing for it. Are we really going to add onto the workload of school personnel by expecting them to be able to take out a gunman that law enforcement often struggles to subdue?

Come on, now. Let's be reasonable.

Guns and classrooms full of immature humans don't mix.

The Harvard Injury Control Resource Center has found that, across the board, more guns = more gun deaths. Even just having a gun in the house increases a person's risk of dying by gun homicide, as well as dying by suicide.

Now let's imagine putting guns in schools and classrooms, strapped onto teachers and administrators. There is no way that makes kids safer. There's just no way.

I'm 5 feet 5 inches and 130 pounds. One average high schooler could overpower me in five seconds. Against two kids, I wouldn't stand a chance. How many incidents of kids taking guns from teachers would we see if teachers were carrying? How many incidents of teachers shooting their own students to prevent them from taking their gun would we see? How many more kids would be traumatized by witnessing such scenarios?

What if a teacher loses it in an altercation with a student? What if an armed adult accidentally shoots inside a school (it's happened, in California and Virginia). What if a teacher takes off their gun to go to the bathroom and forgets about it? (That's also happened in Pennsylvania and Florida—at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school, of all places.)

And the idea of armed teachers being a deterrent? How many active shooters, who are often on a suicide mission anyway, would be deterred by the possibility of school personnel being armed? If 23.5% weren't deterred by armed security guards, why would they be daunted by an armed teacher?

And we haven't even gotten into what happens when law enforcement arrives and gets confused about who the good guys with guns are and who the bad guys with guns are.

Schools shouldn't have to be turned into fortresses in a civilized nation.

If we really want to claim "greatness" as a nation and imagine that we hold any standing in the world as a beacon of freedom, we can't turn schools into armed fortresses. No other developed nation has to do that. In no other developed nation are guns the No. 1 cause of death for children and teens. No other nation, developed or developing, has more guns than people.

We can talk all day long about mental illness and poor parenting and lack of moral compass, but every other country has those issues too. What they don't have is easy, ubiquitous access to obscene numbers of guns and a culture that celebrates guns as symbols of freedom.

When guns are the leading cause of death for American children, they don't mean freedom. When our babies can't sit in a classroom without fearing for their lives, they are not free. The gun nuts can rant about tyranny all they want, but regular school shootings are not the price we have to pay for freedom.

In fact, the opposite is true. Freedom is literally the price we are paying to keep the gun lobby happy and politicians' pockets lined. It's long past time we recognized it and it's certainly time to do something meaningful about it.

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