A parent’s biggest fear is that they send their little one to school and they never come home. Frightening reports of school shootings are stark reminders that gun violence is not only disturbing, but it’s a reality that’s not going away. The debate about whether to arm teachers begs the question — Would a parent feel safer knowing that their child’s teacher has a gun in the classroom? Arkansas’ school boards have believe the answer is yes, at least for now, as the legislature tries to find a solution.
Arkansas school board decides to arm its teachers.
Despite Arkansas’ state law prohibiting guns on campus, Fox News Insider reports that thirteen school districts have decided to arm teachers and staff with guns. The only exception to the State’s gun ban is for licensed security guards. In order to get around that law, the school districts obtained licenses which classified them as “private security firms” — a classification normally reserved for private businesses. The school board, who was considering revoking these licenses, has now decided to let them to stand for two years in order to allow the state legislature time to address this issue.
Soon after the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Connecticut, the National Rifle Association released a statement suggesting that arming teachers was the answer. With student safety is at the heart of this issue, it must be decided whether arming teachers is a safe alternative.
Is it safer to arm teachers?
One legitimate concern is whether putting firearms in the hands of teachers, trained as educators not marksmen, is any safer for the children. The school district in Clarksville, Arkansas has held a 53-hour training program where teachers and staff participated in roleplaying drills of school shootings. They used “airsoft” pellet guns and the students wore protective gear. That training cost the school district approximately $70,000. Some might say that is a hefty price to pay for safety. Many school officials would argue it’s worth it. Nancy Anderson, superintendent of Cutter Morning Star, had this opinion:
If there’s an active shooter in my building, I’m going in. If I have nothing to throw but staplers, so be it. I’d like to have something other than a stapler to throw at someone with a gun.
As of the first of this year, 15 states have agreed to participate in the Armed Teacher Training Program, launched by an Ohio gun owner’s group. Yet, even with proper training, can a teacher effectively play both roles? Teachers are there to teach, not to act as security officers.
Not all school board members in Arkansas were in agreement with the idea of school staff performing security functions. Jack Acre, who voted against allowing the Arkansas licenses to continue, had this to say: “If you’re a teacher, you can’t teach school and be a security guard. If you’re driving a bus, you can’t do it.” That raises a good point. Wouldn’t private security firms or law enforcement be better equipped to handle school security than teachers with no law enforcement or security training? Proponents of arming teachers believe teachers can be prepared for the task.
Pros and cons of putting guns in the hands of school staff.
Arming school employees may not be bad, but if weapons are stored securely (as they must be in to ensure student safety) they may not really be useful in an unexpected emergency situation. Paul Fennewald, a former FBI agent and director of homeland security for the state of Missouri, explained it this way:
If you’re going to have it totally locked up, how quickly could you get it? Unless you have it on your person, ready to use at a moment’s notice, how much difference would you make?
Proponents of arming teachers, like Tim Fitch, the chief of the St. Louis County police department in Missouri, are concerned about those critical moments when a shooter has entered a school and law enforcement has not yet arrived. Indeed, what is a school to do when an armed gunman bursts into the school lobby and starts to open fire? Making firearms and training available to teachers may make the difference, some believe.
Where are we in this debate?
According to an article in the St. Charles Herald (Louisiana), at least 19 states already have legislation in place that allows teachers to carry weapons on school grounds with written permission from school administrators. Massachusetts is included in that group. Public opinion seems to be more evenly split on the issue, as suggested by an ongoing online poll being conducted at debate.org. The poll posed the question “Should school teachers be armed with guns?” Comments are posted and the votes are tallied. As of the date of this posting, the responses are split 51-49 in favor of arming teachers. When it comes down to it, each state will make a decision one way or the other. As that happens, we can only hope that the decisions will save the lives of our children.