In the wake of the Parkland school shooting, as with other such tragedies, I’m sure you’ve seen calls to arm teachers, so they can protect their students. I’ve made such calls myself in the past. However, I’ve been thinking about it, and it may raise as many issues as it might solve.
First off, not all schools are equal. Some are dens of student iniquity – violence, disrespect for the authority of teachers, gang activity, and so on. New York City is a prime example. If teachers were armed in such schools, they’d be targeted by the gang-bangers, who’d try to take their guns for their own purposes. If the teachers defended themselves, they’d be crucified in the media – “Teacher shoots Grade 9 student!” and so on. The facts of the matter would be ignored. In such schools, I can’t see armed teachers being an option for school security.
Second, there’s the training involved. Some school districts may be content to have teachers qualify under state concealed carry permit standards. Others will train them more rigorously. In Texas, where I live, there are a number of programs like this. However, none of them rise to the level of full police training. I don’t necessarily see that as a problem, but others do. They argue that if you want teachers to be teachers, let them remain teachers; if you want them to be policemen, then they can’t be teachers any longer. There’s a certain amount of truth in that. If we want armed teachers, we have to accept that they won’t be trained and equipped to the level of formal law enforcement officers. As far as I’m concerned, I’m willing to accept that. Others aren’t.
Associated with that issue is the cost of training. Who pays? It’s expensive to get really good handgun training, at the level of an introductory course at Gunsite or Thunder Ranch, or a school of similar quality (which I would regard as a minimum standard for any armed teacher I’d trust with the lives of my children). Including travel, hotel accommodation, ammunition, etc., I’ll be surprised if you spend less than $2,000 to attend such a course – and that’s only the first part of the training. There are annual qualifications to consider, as well as equipment (holster, belt, firearm, magazines, ammunition, etc.). Who pays? Will the school or school district be willing to fund such costs?
Another element of training is team tactics. An armed teacher should ideally be trained to work as a team with other armed teachers. They don’t want someone pulling a Rambo and going charging out into the line of fire. They all need to understand what the others will do in an emergency, and how to act themselves without endangering other members of the team. They may have to work together to secure a shooting scene while waiting for the police to arrive, including controlling panicky students. This can be a very big job indeed. Teamwork will be essential – and it doesn’t just happen. It has to be trained and practiced. That’s another demand on their time, because it will have to be an ongoing process, not a one-time class.
What happens if a teacher defends his or her students using a firearm, and one or more of their bullets actually injures an innocent student? This can happen very easily – over-penetration of a wall, hitting someone on the other side; a ricochet off the floor; poor aim under stress; and so on. You can already imagine the howls of outrage from much of society. The teacher will almost certainly face lawsuits and demands for humongous damages, as will the school and school district. In the absence of enabling legislation, including indemnity for such occurrences, I don’t know how to get around this problem. In some states, existing legislation would prevent lawsuits. In others, such legislation does not exist. Can there be a national standard that applies everywhere? Should there be one?
There will also have to be prior planning and coordination with local law enforcement authorities. If they get a call about a shooter at a school, they’re going to move in with foot, horse and artillery, if they’re any good. Armed teachers will want to be as sure as possible that they won’t be targeted by trigger-happy officers, shooting at anyone they see carrying a gun. (That’s not just a theoretical danger, either, as we discussed earlier this morning.) That means ongoing joint training with law enforcement, at a minimum.
There’s also the potential limitation on the teacher’s activities. He or she will have to have their firearm under their personal control every minute of the day. It’s no good locking it in a safe somewhere, to allow them to do something else. If they don’t have it when it’s needed, they may as well not have it at all. On the other hand, if they’re always carrying it on their person, they’ll need to dress to conceal it. That may hamper them from conducting certain activities (e.g. lab work, where they may need to wear protective clothing; sports training, where they may need activity-appropriate clothing; etc.). Even if they can dress to conceal it, it will need to be readily accessible in an emergency, so their clothing will have to be chosen with that in mind. That may go against a formal or informal dress code for teachers at their school, making them stand out.
I haven’t seen points like these discussed by those advocating the arming of teachers. I remain of the opinion that it’s a good idea, in the absence of sufficient armed police officers permanently stationed at each and every school. I’ve argued in the past that terrorists would like nothing better than to reproduce the Beslan school massacre here, and I continue to believe that. Contrary to liberal and progressive scoffers, who would argue that a handgun is no match for an AK-47 or similar weapon, a handgun can, indeed, be a deterrent. At the very least, it can buy time for students to run like hell, while a few armed teachers hold the line behind them! It’s a whole lot better than nothing.
Nevertheless, if we want armed teachers, we’d better give some thought to these questions, too. It’s not as simple an issue as it might appear.