Is Arming Teachers a Good Idea?

On February 14, 2018, at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, 17 people were killed at the hands of Nikolas Cruz and his AR-15 style rifle. Although Donald Trump was not the first voice in the conversation on arming teachers to solve the problem of school shootings, his comments endorsing the NRA’s position on arming teachers following the February 14 shooting has given rise to widespread debate.

To anyone supporting arming teachers in schools as a reasonable and rational measure in preventing or mitigating mass shootings at schools, I challenge you to read this post (and the links…ALL of them) before continuing to respond to this conversation. When so many lives are at stake, how willing are you to listen carefully to perspectives and arguments that do not align with your own preexisting beliefs?

Placing the Burden

After the shooting rampage in Dallas in 2016, police chief David Brown said that overall, the police force is asked to take on too much, and too much responsibility is affecting their ability to do any aspect of their job well. Being overburdened and over-stressed does not lead to good job performance. Perhaps this is why law enforcement failed to respond to several early warning signs that Nikolas Cruz had plans to massacre his high school. This is a problem in our police forces, and we cannot do the same to teachers.

Teachers are already overburdened with responsibility. Is it seriously reasonable and rational to put even more responsibility on teachers’ plates when they’re already responsible for providing our children with a 21st century education (not to mention being underfunded in this endeavor to begin with)?

Firsthand Accounts

Arming Teachers? Guns + Schools: It Doesn't Add UpEven a variety of veterans think it’s a bad idea to have firearms in classrooms (see James Fallows’ article at The Atlantic and Matt Martin’s narrative at Charlotte Five). People who actually teach don’t think it’s a good idea. And mental health care professionals suggest that having firearms in the classroom likely wouldn’t decrease and could actually INCREASE the incidents of mass shootings in schools (link #6).

A Light Literature Review

So to those of you supporting firearms in classrooms, how do you respond to these narratives and arguments? (which I’ve briefly annotated for your convenience):

  1. Teaching is more than “teaching” (so how can we ask teachers to do even more and have a chance at being successful?):
    https://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/excuse-me-while-i-teach-your-child-but-first-i-must
  2. Police weren’t meant to solve every societal problem [and neither are teachers]:
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2016/07/11/grief-and-anger-continue-after-dallas-attacks-and-police-shootings-as-debate-rages-over-policing/?utm_term=.33c55f48b25f
  3. Personal narrative from a vet who reveals that you can never know how people will handle a live fire situation no matter how much training they have (if some military personnel with LOADS of training freeze in live fire situations, what can we expect of teachers?):
    https://www.charlottefive.com/arming-teachers/
  4. Personal narrative from a then-vet and now-teacher who challenges the notion of becoming a once-again infantryman in the classroom:
    https://www.theatlantic.com/notes/2018/02/a-veteran-on-the-need-to-control-civilian-arms/553709/?utm_source=fbb
  5. Personal narrative and argument from a college teacher, pointing to a variety of problems and valid concerns about having firearms in the classroom:
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2018/02/22/why-i-will-never-carry-a-gun-in-my-classroom/?utm_term=.527a8bd329ad
  6. From a psychological perspective, Peter Langman reveals how most school shooters—particularly psychopathic shooters—fully intend to either commit suicide after or be killed during or after the shooting (suggesting to me that arming teachers gives psychopaths the idea that they’ll more likely be killed which could actually INCREASE the number of school shootings rather than decrease): https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/keeping-kids-safe/200908/kill-and-die-suicide-and-school-shooters

A Constitutional Response to the “Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Assocation”

The Fresno Bee recently published an editorial response to Margaret Mims’ involvement in the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA): “Constitutional Sheriffs’ in Calif. Abuse their Positions.” There are, as of the publishing of this blog, over 150 comments on The Bee’s editorial ranging from “more power to them [the Sheriffs]” to “anti-gun laws are violating my civil rights” to a slough of slippery-slope, strawman, and ad hominem, argumentative responses that typically pervade “comments” sections on the Internet (which is why I’ve decided to publish my personal response on my own blog). If any of those commentators happen to make their way to The Snow of the Universe, I hope one thing they’ll take away from this response is that calling someone a “liberal” or a “conservative” does not automatically and intrinsically invalidate their argument (assuming they made an argument, of course).

I agree that there are a variety of problematic issues going on here; in addition, I think the point of the article is a bit more subtle than problems with “upholding the Constitution” and the patriotism of law enforcement and peace officers—the author points out that the danger of the “Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association,” an association of which Sheriff Mims is a member, is that Sheriffs are spouting out rhetoric saying that they are going to begin upholding laws that fit their ideology (and not upholding laws that conflict with their ideology). The is problematic because it is actually contrary to upholding the Constitution. Regardless of what that ideology is, our three-branch government prohibits law enforcement and peace offers from interpreting and applying laws as THEY see fit. That’s the judicial branch’s job. I’d be endlessly apprehensive about a state in which law enforcement officers get to interpret the laws and apply them however they want based on their own ideologies, and as a former police academy cadet and proactive citizen, I feel quite strongly about this point while continuing to have the utmost respect for all peace officers and law enforcement agents. But if we don’t a police state, we definitely don’t want to go here.

I know that many of us—as a gun owner, myself included—are sensitive about gun control / gun freedom policy, so I’m reticent to continue using the article’s example, but it is a prudent example: so say, for example, stricter gun laws at either the state or federal level are put in to place, and there’s growing sentiment among certain segments of the people and peace officers that those laws are “unconstitutional” for whatever reason. That’s all well and fine, but it is not at the privilege of law enforcement agencies to do what they please with those laws according to their personal ideologies and how they interpret the Constitution. It would be an endlessly more serious breach of constitutional law for one branch of government appropriating the tasks of another branch (in this case, the executive branch appropriating the responsibilities of the judicial branch).

James Madison, the Father of the Constitution

It would, in fact, undermine the entire checks and balances system. I believe what the article fails to clearly articulate is that the “abuse” of “[Sheriff’s] position[s]” is that the rhetoric is damaging and undermining to the checks and balances system that is hard-coded into the Constitution.

This isn’t to say that the people have to wait on the judicial branch though. If the people have a problem with policy, then they need to interact with Congress or the State Legislature—the lawmakers—by writing, calling, and voting.

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