I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Arming Teachers Is a Bad Idea

UPDATE: A reader points me to this 2014 piece by Russ Moore, a gun owning principal. It's good. 

UPDATE 2: I wrote this before Trump started babbling nonsense about arming teachers. I really didn't think he would actually propose such a ridiculous idea (silly me), but now that he has, there's been a groundswell of opposition. 

When I say below "I know I'm going to get a lot of grief," I'm not at all implying this post is unique. Trump moved this debate from the fringes to the mainstream -- such is the power of the presidency.

I know I'm going to get a lot of grief for this post, but someone's got to say it:

Arming teachers is a bad idea.

I know there are a sizable number of teachers who are licensed, responsible gun owners. No one I know wants to take away your right to have a gun, although plenty of us want greater regulation, as is demanded by the Second Amendment*, than we have now.

But bringing your gun to school so you can take a law enforcement role concurrent with your responsibilities as a teacher is a bad policy, for many reasons:

- Armed teachers are not adequately trained or experienced, and they never will be. Your proficiency with a firearm is not adequate qualification for you to be carrying one at school. You might be able to hit a target every time, but you will never have the training or experience to be entrusted to know which target to hit.

"Oh, I'll train during the summer." That's not enough. Law enforcement officials go out on the streets every day. They get experience every day. They are supervised in the use of deadly force every day. There is no conceivable scenario where you can meet your obligations as a teacher and receive adequate training and experience so you know not just how to use a deadly weapon, but when.

"But I was in the military." Thank you for your service. But military experience is not the same as civilian law enforcement experience. The rules of engagement are not the same. The environment of the battlefield and the school are completely different. And no one ever expected that you could engage the enemy while simultaneously teaching children -- two tasks with extraordinarily large cognitive loads that, if we're being honest with ourselves, no human being can do at the same time.

- We can't afford it. There is no way the American public would ever accept armed educators in the classroom unless they were regularly screened, trained, and supervised (even then, I'm betting most parents would be against it). This costs money -- money we could be spending on school facilities, salaries, curriculum, etc.

You can't expect to arm teachers and not increase their workload. You can't expect to increase their workload and not pay them more. But why would we pay teachers more to partially train them in law enforcement techniques when we could instead pay them more to train them to be better teachers?

- There's no evidence it will work. I'm not going to wade into a long battle over the evidence on gun proliferation and crime. Suffice to say there is an extraordinary amount of junk research out there**, and both-sidesism runs rampant. A large part of the problem is that the Centers for Disease Control has been prevented from engaging in research on the correlation between gun ownership and gun violence.

If you want to ignore the reams of evidence that shows gun ownership does not lead to a reduction in violent crime, I can't help you. But at least show me a body of high-quality research that supports the contention that arming teachers will make students safer. Not anecdotes; not non-peer reviewed hack junk. I'm talking serious, empirical evidence. Where is it?

- It's completely impractical. The premise for arming teachers is that they will have their weapons at the ready on a moment's notice as they will be the first-responders to a gun attack. Which means they will have to carry a loaded weapon with them at all times.

A law enforcement officer's foremost priority is making sure her weapon is secured. A teacher's foremost priority is the needs of her students. These are not the same things. It is very easy to imagine all sorts of scenarios where a teacher needs to focus completely on a student to the exclusion of everything else. But that can never happen so long as that teacher has to put the security of their firearm first.

The more you think about this, the more absurd the whole idea becomes. Are you really suggesting a gym teacher should lead his students in basketball drills with a gun strapped to his chest? A music teacher should conduct a choir with a sidearm? A kindergarten teacher should give a hug to a crying child while carefully making sure that child doesn't touch her gun?


- An armed teacher will always be suspicious. I'm sure most of the teachers who are calling to be armed are very nice folks who have the best of intentions. But are we sure all of them are?

Teachers are generally stable, moderate people. But they're people. They have bad relationships and battles with addiction and personal demons at the same rates as everyone else. Are we really confident we can screen out teachers who shouldn't be armed? One bad call is all it will take.

The reality is that an armed teacher will always be treated differently than an unarmed one. And if I'm a law enforcement officer who arrives at an active shooter scene and I see an armed civilian firing a weapon around children...

Look, we can have a serious debate about how to protect our citizens -- especially our children -- from the horrific tragedies that are plaguing this country while respecting the rights of responsible gun owners. I have no problem with hunters and marksmen and people who need a gun for their personal protection. I agree that banning all guns will not solve our problems.

But arming teachers is not a serious policy proposal; it is simply a bad idea. If we're going to create good public policy that protects students in schools, we should not waste time considering whether we should arm teachers -- that's a distraction we really can't afford right now.

ADDING: A commenter on Facebook:
I worked with a retired NJSP officer who took a security job at a HS. He said he'd NEVER bring his gun to school because it might be taken from him in a scuffle and there was a HUGE risk of collateral damage in a group situation if he had to use it. He was a senior officer with 26 years' experience.
I'm obviously not a law enforcement professional. But isn't this the reason why corrections officers don't carry weapons when they are in proximity to the prison population? Isn't this why police officers don't bring their weapons into holding areas?

I made an assertion above that I really should confirm with law enforcement officers: when you are issued a weapon, isn't your top priority making sure that weapon is always secured?

* "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

** And if anyone knows about junk research, it's an education policy researcher...


Giuseppe said...

After every horrific gun slaughter and school massacre we go through this merry go round from hell debate. Arming teachers is one of the stupidest ideas ever. There were 2 armed police at this latest shooting in FL. There were 2 armed guards at Columbine and one of them managed to get off a shot at one of the teen shooters. Arming teachers is a deflection and distraction from the real problem(s): a proliferation of guns, easy access to guns, lax gun laws, these semi-automatic military style rifles and guns, the NRA, the NRA, the NRA and mostly GOP politicians (and some Democrats) bought off by the NRA and the gun manufacturers.

Xysuthros said...

In response to Giuseppe, he said a couple misleading things. First, there were not two armed guards at Columbine. There was one guard assigned there; he happened to be in the parking lot at the time, but still did manage to save at least one life. A motorcycle patrolman also responded from about a mile away. Similarly, I can find evidence for only one armed officer assigned to the school at the recent FL shooting. He, unfortunately, never encountered the gunman. Mind you, I am not a proponent of arming teachers because I agree, at least in part, with the arguments made in this post. But as to the argument that there's no evidence it will work, is there any data on the subject? Is there any evidence that it WON'T work? Now, I am an advocate of better gun ownership screening, metal detectors at schools, and armed guards at schools. Likely, there are some potentially effective measures that have not been tried, or even adequately aired. But we need an open debate without either side presenting skewed evidence or omitting important facts just to make their point.

Giuseppe said...

This is from the Huffingtonpost: "In 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 15 people and wounded 23 more at Columbine High School. The destruction occurred despite the fact that there was an armed security officer at the school and another one nearby — exactly what LaPierre argued on Friday was the answer to stopping “a bad guy with a gun.”

Maybe I am wrong but I got from that paragraph that there were two guards, one was on campus and the other off campus. If I am mistaken, then I apologize. But the point remains that there was at least one armed guard and that did not deter the shooters. It was not a gun free zone. I also read years ago (sorry can't find the article) that there was one guard on campus and the other one was off campus for some reason. Possibly that article was in error.

As for the FL shooting, I heard 2 police were assigned to the school from a comment on one of the radio shows/news feeds I was listening to. I was listening to so many sources I don't remember which one it was, maybe NPR. But now that I searched for confirmation, I'm coming up with just one police officer assigned to the school. I shouldn't have trusted a stray comment from the radio and computer.
Teachers being armed is still an insane idea. As if teachers don't have enough responsibilities, now they have to be perfect marksmen/women and risk hitting their own pupils or fellow teachers by accident.

Peter Greene said...

Every policeman ever killed in the line of duty was armed and well-trained.

Xysuthros said...

Giuseppe, thank you for your thoughtful reply. I will reiterate that the one armed guard on the Columbine campus did demonstrably save at least one life by allowing at least one student, about to be killed, to escape by forcing one of the shooters back into the school.

My personal belief remains that arming teachers is not a good idea despite the fact that we have no evidence one way or the other at this time.

Finally, Peter Greene, what is your statement trying to prove? Are you saying that police having firearms is not effective at saving their own or others' lives? This is like saying that belted-in people killed in car crashes proves that seat belts don't work. Kind of a non-argument, don't you think?