Locked, Loaded, and Ready to Teach?

by Lindsey Burns

In the wake of the recent shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, we are left wondering how this violence could have possibly occurred in the first place, and what could have been done to prevent it. Somehow, one school shooting at Columbine High School wasn’t enough to call for action; after nearly 20 years, 270 school shootings, and now the desperate pleas of student survivors from Stoneman Douglas High School, the U.S. government still has not taken effective action to prevent, or at least minimize, the number of school shootings (Pearle). Some viable options include stronger background checks, more attention to mental health care and training, banning bump stocks, and raising the minimum age for purchasing a firearm. However, the government is also considering the solution of arming teachers. In a series of tweets, President Trump suggested “giving concealed guns to gun adept teachers with military or special training experience.” President Trump also expressed his favor for the idea of arming teachers in a recent meeting with survivors of school shootings and parents, claiming that a coach who had saved several lives at Stoneman Douglas would have been better off with a gun because “if he had a firearm, he wouldn’t have had to run; he would have shot and that would have been the end of it” (Strauss). 

To consider arming teachers as a solution for school shootings is to overlook the major point that, if guns and gunmen could be kept out of schools entirely, then there would be absolutely no need for teachers to have guns. School is not a place for guns or weapons of any kind; no child should ever have to be afraid of going to school out of fear that he or she might be a victim of the next school shooting. Arming teachers would reshape children’s perception of safety, defense, and authority, produce a tense and hostile environment in the classroom, and possibly make it difficult for teachers to discern what constitutes a threat.

School is supposed to be a safe zone, free from violence and guns, where children only have to be concerned with their learning––no child should have to be in a learning environment where he or she has to worry about potentially being shot and killed. For many students, school is the only escape from violence at home or in their communities, and they should not have to be reminded of such violence while at school. Studies have proven that exposure to gun violence has detrimental psychological effects on children. According to a Princeton University journal article written by Kathleen Reich et al, exposure to gun violence, even if just through the media, causes children “to become more aggressive, to view more favorably the use of aggression to resolve conflicts, to become desensitized to violence, and to develop a belief that the world around them is a frightening place” (Reich et al). If teachers were armed, it would force children to be aware and accepting of a reality in which they could potentially be shot while in school, whether by an armed intruder or by their own teacher. If a student knows that their teacher has a firearm in the classroom, the teacher becomes a threatening authority figure who could end the student’s life with the simple pull of a trigger. Even if defense is emphasized as the purpose of having guns, this sends a message to young students that guns are a sensible solution to any hostile situation. As a result, students themselves might be compelled to bring firearms to school. 

Additionally, it seems that older students who are aware of the severity of gun violence in this country do not want their teachers to be armed. Even the student survivors of the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School feel that weapons in schools would do nothing but worsen the situation––they do not wish their teachers had possessed guns to protect them during the shooting, but rather that the 19-year-old gunman had not been able to enter the school with an assault rifle in the first place. Emma Gonzalez, a student survivor of the Stoneman Douglas shooting, stated outright in an interview that the idea of arming teachers is “stupid,” and then raised important questions about the logistical issues of teachers having guns. These students, even in their grief, are not rallying for teachers to be armed to protect students. Instead, they are rallying for stricter gun control, so that no student will ever have to experience the same atrocity that they did.

Another major issue to consider is that the mere presence of a gun can trigger tension and hostility in a classroom, creating the possibility for a teacher to threaten or harm a student, or vice versa. Several studies have shown that weapons being present in an environment “can influence aggressive thoughts, hostile appraisals, and aggressive behavior,” and concealed weapons can make the situation even more volatile than if they are carried openly (Benjamin). A classroom should be a welcoming place for students to openly and enthusiastically engage in their learning and interact with their peers; a teacher’s job is to foster such an environment, but the presence of a firearm would make this difficult to do. With a gun in the classroom, teachers would be hypersensitive to possible threats and might be more likely to react more aggressively during an altercation with a student. In an NPR radio interview, Joshua Grubbs, a gun owner and professor at Bowling Green State University, contemplates what it would be like to carry his gun while teaching. He describes a “heightened awareness, this threat [assessment], this evaluating whether or not I was going to need to use a gun,” which causes him to become overly-aware of his decisions and actions while carrying his gun. Discernment of threats is highly subjective in itself, and the sense of hyperawareness Grubbs describes can cause a person to view more aspects of the environment as potential threats. Grubbs expresses how carrying a gun while teaching would challenge his ability to “educate from a place of openness and warmth and seeing the best in [his] students” (“Teachers Respond to Trump’s Push to Arm School Staff”). A gun in the classroom potentially places a teacher at odds with students, and can create a barrier that inhibits casual interaction between teacher and student, and well as among students themselves. 

During President Trump’s aforementioned meeting with survivors, a parent suggested anonymously arming teachers so that students and potential shooters are not aware of which teachers are armed. However, this solution is also not realistic –– shouldn’t parents have a right to know if their child’s teacher is carrying a firearm? This idea is contradictory; a potential gunman would be deterred from entering a school if he knew that a school had armed teachers, but in order for this plan to be effective, the arming of teachers would have to be public information. Additionally, during an NPR radio interview, Sarah Plumitallo, an elementary school teacher in Virginia, stated that a considerable number of post-Columbine school shooters committed suicide at the scene, and they entered the schools despite many of them having armed guards on campus (“Teachers Respond to Trump’s Push to Arm School Staff”). A mentally deranged person is willing to risk his or her own life in order to kill as many people as possible; few things will successfully deter a determined and unchecked shooter. 

There are alternative solutions to arming teachers that can allow schools to remain safe, welcoming places that encourage learning and interaction. Unfortunately, it seems that guns will always be accessible in some way, even if laws are established that make accessibility more difficult. A sounder alternative to arming teachers is implementing active shooter preparedness programs, such as the ALICE (Alert Lockdown Inform Counter Evacuate) Training Institute program that is used by 4,200 school districts and counting nationwide. Programs like ALICE teach students and teachers “to do more than just hide,” as traditional lockdown drills advise students to do, and to either fight back (without the use of guns) or evacuate if an active shooter enters a school (Campbell). Programs like this could serve the same purposes as arming teachers––deterring potential shooters and providing a means of defense. Employing armed guards or police officers at schools could be another option. It is worth noting, though, there was an armed guard at Stoneman Douglas High School during the recent shooting, and he did nothing to stop the gunman. 

Instead of being trained to use firearms, perhaps teachers should be trained to identify signs of mental illness in students and to provide support accordingly. During President Trump’s meeting with survivors, Nicole Hockley, a mother whose son was killed in the Sandy Hook school shooting, suggested that teachers can actively prevent shootings by identifying and “[getting] help for people who are at risk of hurting themselves or others before they pick up any weapon” (Strauss). Teachers themselves have taken to social media to express their opposition to allowing guns in schools through the #ArmUsWith movement: on social media platforms such as Instagram and Twitter, teachers have been using the hashtag to propose tools and resources they would much rather be provided with than guns, such as school supplies and more mental health resource funding for students (Meixler). Teachers would rather take on the responsibilities of getting to know their individual students better and paying closer attention to their students’ mental health than have the responsibility of carrying a firearm. Teachers should be confidants for their students; they should be able to get to know their students on a personal level and learn about their lives at home, and guns being present would inhibit this crucial student-teacher bond. 

Teachers are not police officers. A teacher’s job of educating young people is daunting enough without having to take on the job of law enforcement too. Teachers should not have to pick up the slack of our government who refuses to take accountability when it comes to gun control, but the sad reality is, as long as our lawmakers are being funded by organizations like the National Rifle Association (NRA), guns will not be going anywhere. Our own president’s solution for preventing school shootings is to add more guns to the system by arming teachers, thus enhancing the rampant gun culture that already pervades American society. A solution such as this one prioritizes the money-driven agenda of the NRA and gun manufacturers over sparing the lives of innocent children in schools. Arming teachers serves two purposes––to act as a deterrent for potential shooters and to allow teachers to defend in the event of a shooting. However, neither of these can truly prevent a shooting from happening in the first place, and neither eliminates the gun doing the killing nor provides mental health intervention for the potential shooter. Even if teachers were willing to carry guns, is it really worth sacrificing the safe and welcoming environment of a school by allowing guns in classrooms, just in case an active shooter decides to enter the school? 

Most of the conversation surrounding school shootings is about preparing for the next one, rather than about preventing the next one. However, the current generation of young students is actively participating in the gun control conversation as they watch their peers die senselessly in shooting after shooting. Shortly after the Parkland shooting, student survivors sprang to action and organized the March For Our Lives in Washington D.C., which inspired hundreds of sister marches throughout all fifty states. An estimated 800,000 people marched on our nation’s capital, bearing signs with messages like “enough is enough,” “let youth lead,” and “books not bullets” (Reilly). These student survivors have sparked a national movement, and it doesn’t seem like the conversation surrounding gun control will be fizzling out anytime soon––not as long as these students have a voice and support from adults with voting power (and soon enough, these students will be voting too). 

The challenge, though, is transforming the conversation into action. There are simple, common sense alternatives to arming teachers that can serve as solutions for preventing school shootings. Action will come when the government realizes that 270 school shootings is 270 too many and that the lives of children who are the future of our country are worth more than any gun.

Works Cited

Benjamin, Arlin James, and Brad J. Bushman. “The Weapons Effect.” Current Opinion in Psychology 19 (2018): 93-7. Web.

Campbell, Alexia Fernández . “This is America: 9 out of 10 public schools now hold mass shooting drills for students.” Vox. February 18, 2018. Web. February 28, 2018
https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/2/16/17016382/school-shootIng-drills-training.

Collins, Julie, and Emily Swoveland. “The Impact of Gun Violence on Children, Families, & Communities.” Child Welfare League of America. Web. February 28, 2018
https://www.cwla.org/the-impact-of-gun-violence-on-children-families-communities/.

Gonzalez, Emma. “Stoneman Douglas student tells 60 Minutes why arming teachers is ‘stupid.’” Interview by Sharyn Alfonsi. 60 Minutes. CBS News. March 16. 2018. Web. March 27, 2018.
https://www.cbsnews.com/news/stoneman-douglas-student-tells-60-minutes-why-arming-teachers-is-stupid/?ftag=CNM-00-10aab7d&linkId=49330600.

Meixler, Eli. “Teachers Are Using #ArmMeWith to Demand They be Armed With Supplies, Not Guns.” TIME Magazine. February 23, 2018. Web. March 27, 2018. http://time.com/5172245/armmewith-teachers-gun-control/.

Pearle, Lauren. “School Shootings Since Columbine: By the Numbers.” ABC News. February 12, 2016. Web. February 27, 2018
http://abcnews.go.com/US/school-shootings-columbine-numbers/story?id=36833245.

Reich, Kathleen, et al. “Children, youth, and gun violence: analysis and recommendations.” The Future of Children, Summer-Fall 2002, p. 5+. Academic OneFile,
http://link.galegroup.com.proxy.bc.edu/apps/doc/A91086471/AONE?u=mlin_m_bostcoll&sid=AONE&xid=0f7253f5.

Reilly, Katie. “Here’s the Size of the March For Our Lives Crowd in Washington.” Time. March 24, 2018. Web.
http://time.com/5214405/march-for-our-lives-attendance-crowd-size/. 

Strauss, Valerie. “Word for word: What everyone said when Trump met with students and parents to talk about guns.” Washington Post – Blogs. Feb 22, 2018. Web. Research Library Prep.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2018/02/22/word-for-word-what-everyone-said-when-trump-met-with-students-and-parents-to-talk-about-guns/?utm_term=.2ecd78e351a8.

“Teachers Respond to Trump’s Push to Arm School Staff.” All Things Considered. NPR. 24 Feb. 2018. Web.
https://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=588567643.

@realDonaldTrump.“I never said “give teachers guns” like was stated on Fake News @CNN & @NBC. What I said was to look at the possibility of giving “concealed guns to gun adept teachers with military or special training experience – only the best. 20% of teachers, a lot, would now be able to.” Twitter. 22 Feb. 2018, 7:26 a.m. Web.
https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/966650397002813440