Arming Teachers In Schools
Since the establishment of public education in the United States, schools have provided a sense of security and belonging to their students. Although sitting through lectures and doing homework may not be the most exciting thing in the world, students will always have a lunch to eat, a roof over their head, and a supportive teacher or counselor that they can talk to.
Despite the “safe” environment and presence of authoritative figures on school campuses, trouble always finds a way to break out. Simple misbehaving and occasional fights are a common occurrence on most school campuses, however a new breed of troublesome and violent students has hatched. The type of violence that nobody should ever witness or be involved in, a crime so sickening that no proper-functioning human being could ever commit. Now, more common than ever before, school shootings threaten the lives of those who attend school, jeopardizing the structure of public education. Will students and faculty continue going to school, just hoping that someone won’t come in campus with a high powered assault rifle and slaughter everyone in their sights, or will educators rise to the occasion and protect their students?
August 1st, 1966. Charles Whitman, a 25-year-old engineering student and former marine attending the University of Texas, opened fire from the clock tower on campus. Soon police arrived and exchanged shots, eventually killing Whitman. However, Charles managed to kill 17 people (including an unborn child) and wound 31. This was the first shooting of its kind of the 21st Century, shocking the nation and striking fear in the hearts of all school attendees.
Fortunately, another mass school shooting in the U.S. didn’t break out for another 30 years. On February 2nd, 1996, Barry Loukaitis gunned down his teacher and two other students, then held his class hostage for 10 minutes until he was restrained by a P.E. teacher. He was only 14 years old and was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences, followed by an additional 205-year sentence. Since then, 8 other mass school shootings have occurred, in the states of Kentucky, Arkansas, Colorado, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ohio, and Most recently, Connecticut. Perhaps the most commonly known school shooting since Sandy Hook on December 14th, 2012, was the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado, Where two gunmen killed 12 students, wounded 26, then turned their weapons on themselves in the school library.
This world-known shooting sparked debates and legal action towards school security, gothic dress style (baggy pants/trench coats that can conceal weapons), teen use of anti-depressants, and violent PC/Console video games. The most recent school shooting, commonly known as “Sandy Hook”, took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Colorado. A Single gunman killed 26 individuals, including 18 young children under the age of twelve. Interestingly, Sandy Hook was considered a “high security” school, with an entrance system that requires visitors to be identified through cameras, then “buzzed” in. Additionally, all entrances lock at 9:30am; however the gunman literally made an entrance by shooting through the walls with his assault rifle. He shot up the main office then proceeded to a kindergarten and first grade block where he claimed most of his victims.
After the horror of this event soaked in, millions of state legislatures, teachers, parents, congress, and even the president finally decided that these shootings must stop. President Barrack Obama stated, “This is our first task as a society—keeping our children safe,” “This is how we will be judged.” This powerful quote captivated millions, encouraging everyone to take a much-needed stand against the domestic terrorism that has taken the lives of students and teachers nationwide. Active members of countless organizations got together and began brainstorming ideas to combat the terror. Thoughts flourished for months, including stricter gun laws, extensive background checks and waiting periods on individuals attempting to purchase firearms, improving school security, reducing media violence, and also mental health checks on students.
Although these ideas are all effective in preventing an attack that hasn’t happened yet, there was no significant suggestion made that could truly stop an attack that was in progress. Kevin Leatherbarrow, a high school English teacher, said, “We’re sitting ducks,” “You don’t have a chance in hell. You’re dead – no ifs, ands, or buts.” Finally, the seed was planted; teachers should be armed in order to protect themselves and their students incase of an attack. Initially, there was two basic extremes of the debate on arming teachers; the liberal groups who entirely rejected the idea of arming teachers and pushed for insanely strict gun laws instead, and the “other side”, consisting of firearm experts, conservatives, gun enthusiasts, and others who felt that it was more than a gun that claimed the lives of victims at Sandy Hook; who were fairly open to the idea of arming teachers.
Their capital viewpoint is “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Martin O’Malley, the Governor of Maryland, labeled the idea, “Outrageous, extreme, and reprehensible:” “It’s hard to imagine a level of weaponry that a security guard would be carrying on their belt that could have resisted the sort of attack that that individual perpetrated in Newtown.” Although the shooter had an assault rifle on him, it has been argued that a single, well-placed bullet could have easily stopped the shooter – no fancy assault rifle required. At the very least, a teacher would have a chance to protect themselves and the lives of their students, as opposed to being slaughtered like fish in a barrel. On the other hand, Steve Dulan, a member of the Michigan Coalition of Responsible Gun Owners said, “Having armed teachers inside Sandy Hook Elementary School would have, “if not prevented, then perhaps minimized,” the tragedy.” This quote emphasizes the fact that teachers have never really been able to defend themselves against any school shooting in history.
It’s extremely easy for any student to toss a gun in their backpack, pull it out in class, and immediately out-arm everyone in the classroom. Rules only work when people follow them and obviously no school gunman has ever done so. The “game” needs to change. Although upgrading the most deadly object in a classroom from a stapler to a gun seems like a good deterrent for anyone looking to attack a school, it is not an easy decision to make. Kenneth S. Trump, President of National School Safety and Security Services, declared, “School districts considering arming teachers and school staff with guns would take on significant responsibility and potential liabilities that I firmly believe are beyond the expertise, knowledge-base, experience, and professional capabilities of most school boards and administrators.”
This suggests that the educational system truly shouldn’t have to decide whether or not to arm their teachers, and it’s tragic as a society that things have even gone this far. After all, it’s a school, not a prison. Aside from the moral aspect, the capabilities of a teacher are commonly questioned. Would they be able to pull the trigger if needed? Could they even hit a target? What if a student overpowered a teacher? This doubt raises more than a few eyebrows, especially those of Jennifer McCormick, Superintendent of Yorktown Community Schools, who said, “Most of our people who go into education are not properly trained or have that kind of experience. But I would also be concerned about the fact that by providing 30 to 40 weapons in the building, that someone might be overpowered … you’ve just provided people with an arsenal that’s already in your building.”
This is a possibly the biggest flaw in the idea of arming teachers, because it’s absolutely true. Teachers aren’t all physical specimens, many of which could easily be overpowered by a student. Although it is highly unlikely in elementary school, high school is a completely different setting, packed full of 200+ lbs. athletes that are more than capable of taking down your average teacher. The firing squad of analysts exposed so many flaws in arming teachers that the idea was forced to change, which it did, quickly and effectively.
The position of SRO (School Resources Officer) has been the newest focus on protecting schools. Although SRO’s have been around since the 90’s, their job description has mainly consisted of steering children towards drugs and gang activity through “kid-friendly” teaching. Now they have began to “beef-up” their position, carrying guns at all times and maintaining a presence throughout the day. Now, schools have gone from having one SRO, to two or three, some campuses even providing a “control room” for the SRO’s to regulate campus activities from. Howard Shephard, a veteran teacher at Asheville High School, said “The idea of arming teachers … there are some of my colleagues I would not want carrying a gun at school,” Shepherd said with a laugh.
“On the other hand, I’m very comfortable with our SRO, and I would love it if we had two or even three more. If the money is going to be spent defending our schools with arms, it should be by trained SROs.” The program has been very successful nationwide and teachers attest to the sense of security the feel with the officer’s presence. When asked if arming teachers was a good idea, Terry Hodge, an educator, replied, “I don’t know if it would really be a benefit,” he said. “I feel comfortable with the SRO program we’ve got.” This shows that SRO programs have already proven themselves, and are capable of far more than just defending campuses against shootings. SRO’s have been embedded on many campuses nationwide for the past two decades, often serving the schools for long periods of time, allowing the officers to develop solid relationships with students and teachers. They are protectors, friends, and educators.
Despite the past success of SRO’s, some people still disagree with the idea of “armed guards” on campus, mainly because of the aspect of guns. An avid forum participator who goes by the internet alias “Attaturk”, posted on a discussion forum on http://theweek.com, ‘Oh if only so and so was armed this could have been prevented.'” If that were true, Adam Lanza’s mother should have been safe — “she was armed to the teeth.” Instead, she was the first victim in this heartbreaking killing spree.” This quote suggests that weaponry cannot control any school shooting or gun-related act of violence. Although the mother of the shooter at Sandy Hook had quite a few weapons, she didn’t have any on her to defend herself. The main point of an SRO is to have at least one armed and properly trained official to be present on the campus incase there was an attack.
The reoccurring focus is to have individuals who are prepared to take immediate action, as opposed to waiting for police, when it takes only minutes to slaughter an entire building of people. David Thweatt, Superintendent of Harold High School, Harold, Texas, reiterates this point in a bluntly,” Our people just don’t want their children to be fish in a bowl,” “Country people are take-care-of-yourself people. They are not under the illusion that the police are there to protect them.” Although police are indeed around to serve the public, they do not always respond fast enough to stop a mass shooting. Thweatt is surely not alone when expressing his fear of helplessness when unable to defend himself or others around him in the case of a school shooting.
Although the debate continues, the idea of having multiple SRO’s at school campuses has seemed to win the opinion of most people willing to “arm the schools.” If SRO programs spread throughout the nation, officers who are balanced at both protecting and educating, should increase in numbers in schools all over the United States. This would greatly increase the defense capabilities that schools have against intruders, as well as deter any individuals from committing such crimes. Hopefully in the near future, students and teachers will be well protected by SRO’s, safely returning home to their loving parents everyday. In a perfect world, monstrous human beings willing to massacre innocent children and teachers would not exist. Unfortunately, the United States is an imperfect nation, and us citizens must adapt to combat the evil.