Earlier this month, Texas Lt. Governor David Dewhurst proposed to use state funding to provide public school teachers and administration with firearm training to protect students in case of a school shooting. Specifically, the proposal would allow school districs to nominate employees who would carry weapons, and would require more extensive training than that which is currently required for handguns in Texas. According to the Associated Press, training would include “how to react in an active shooter situation,” and how to maintain calm if such a situation should occur. The proposal was somewhat light on actual details, but the message was clear: in Dewhurst’s view, arming teachers is the way to adequately prevent school massacres.
I think this is a terrible idea.
Before I elaborate, I should preface this by saying that I am from Ridgefield, Connecticut, approximately twenty minutes from Newtown. I do not know anyone who was harmed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, but the shooting still hit very, very close to home for me, and for the past month it’s never fully been out of my head. Clearly, I’m not alone; lawmakers across the country are seriously discussing what we should be doing with guns. Gun laws are an extremely complicated issue, and while there is a lot I could talk about, for now I’m going to focus on a specific topic: whether or not teachers should carry weapons in elementary schools.
That such an idea exists isn’t news anymore. In the days following the shooting that suggestion was everywhere: on the internet, in the newspapers, in the conversations of people I passed in the Stop and Shop at home. I’m not trying to pick on Texas or single out Dewhurst, because he isn’t the only one calling for armed teachers. But reading Dewhurst’s proposal, and the coverage surrounding it, really made me think about why I disagree with it so strongly.
To begin, we have to address the logistics of a teacher carrying a weapon. Would these teachers or administrators carry weapons all the time, as seems to be the suggestion? This possibility baffles me. I’m sorry, but common sense seems to dictate to me that when you are teaching a room full of eight year-olds, having a loaded gun in your pocket is an accident waiting to happen. Little kids are clumsy; they run and they fall. Sometimes, kindergarten kids throw tantrums; I know when I was in kindergarten and first grade, I witnessed quite a few kicking, screaming, hair-pulling tantrums.
I’m aware that modern guns have technology that makes accidental discharge nearly impossible, but what happens if, in any of the above situations, the gun gets knocked loose somehow, falls onto the floor, and is picked up by a child? Today’s guns are built to be safe, but anything that is manufactured can break or fail. I don’t think it’s that hard to imagine why carrying a gun on you in a room full of kindergarteners is a bad idea.
Then, you have people who say that teachers should have a gun in their classroom, just in case, but not carry it on them. Obviously, you would then have to keep it locked to prevent students from getting ahold of it. So what happens in a situation when a gunman bursts into your classroom? How long does it take to cross the room, unlock the safe, and take out the gun? Admittedly, teachers in other classrooms would have the chance to arm themselves and be ready, but a carefully-planned attack could still deliberately target teachers/students who aren’t near the locations where their firearms are stored.
And finally, we have the issue of accuracy: no matter how much training the teachers receive, how can we ensure that, if they need to shoot it, they don’t miss, and hit innocents instead? Trained law professionals miss. Gun owners miss. Searching “accidental shooting” under Google’s news filter brings up dozens of articles about accidental shootings in the past two weeks alone: some by children who accidentally got their hands on guns (Richmond, Virginia, January 14), some by owners who were cleaning their guns and unintentionally set them off (St. Petersburg, Florida, January 10), and some by trained professionals who misfire (Fayetteville, Arkansas, December 28; the “victim” was a police chief who accidentally shot herself in the hand with her own gun).
Accidents happen. By now you’re probably sick of reading examples, but I’ll throw one more at you anyway. In 2011, when Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and several other cvilians were shot, a courageous man named Joe Zamudio happened to be in a drug store nearby. Zamudio was both armed and, having grown up around guns, knew how to fire one. He ran to the scene, helped subdue the killer, and was hailed a hero—which, of course, he is. But there is a less-reported detail about that incident, one that doesn’t get as much press: Zamudio almost shot the wrong man. As Slate magazine reported:
“‘I came out of that store, I clicked the safety off, and I was ready,’ [Zamudio] explained on Fox and Friends. ‘I had my hand on my gun. I had it in my jacket pocket here. And I came around the corner like this.’ Zamudio demonstrated how his shooting hand was wrapped around the weapon, poised to draw and fire. As he rounded the corner, he saw a man holding a gun. “And that’s who I at first thought was the shooter,’ Zamudio recalled. “I told him to ‘Drop it, drop it!’’”
The catch? The man with the gun wasn’t shooter Jared Loughner, but another civilian, who had wrestled the gun from Loughner. Zamudio didn’t shoot the man, but he did push him against a wall before realizing what was going on and jumping on the real shooter. He made a split-second decision not to shoot—but he had the safety released and was ready. Even Zamudio acknowledged that he was “very lucky” that he didn’t shoot an innocent man. In part, he says, he didn’t shoot the man because he didn’t want to be confused as a second gunman.
These are just a few examples of what could happen when you run with a loaded firearm onto a chaotic and bloody scene—you can shoot the wrong person, or you can shoot the right person, but be confused as the bad guy. How are we to make sure that a teacher, under intense stress due to the presence of a gunman, can tell who the “bad guy” is, or shoot accurately at him or her?
In a situation like Newtown, how do we make sure that teachers don’t round the corner, like Zamudio, with the safety released, ready to fire, and accidentally hit another armed teacher in the heat of the moment? Or that any of the “accidents” I cited above—all of which, by the way, occurred under presumably “safe” conditions—would not happen in a school full of small children?
I can anticipate people reading this and saying “yes, but guns made these days are safe—they don’t misfire; it’s extremely unlikely for a gun to fall out of a holster, etc., etc.” I’m sorry, but I think it’s ridiculous to base decisions about dangerous weapons on probability, especially considering the number of accidents that happen involving guns. There are too many things that could go wrong—and too many accidents waiting to happen—when schoolteachers carry guns.
I’m not pretending to have the answer to stopping gun violence, because I don’t—I truly don’t know what the best solution is. But I do know that arming schoolteachers isn’t it.